The first thing you notice about the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is that the new setting is as much a part of the gallery as the collection.
Set along Biscayne Bay — the water laps just a few feet away — the museum offers deep-blue views to the east, the cruise-ship-filled channel leading out to the ocean, the endless sky, palm trees.
There’s a open-air, shaded patio that runs the width of the building along the waterline, with the overhang three stories above. You could sit outside admiring this view, listening to the wind and the water for a long time before moving inside.
When you do, you won’t be shifting gears from sunny outside to windowless gallery space. The $131 million, three-story, 200,000-square-foot museum is filled with windows, using them as everything from illumination to backdrop.
Just inside the entrance, Hew Locke’s installation of 79 model boats hanging from the ceiling (“For Those in Peril on Sea,”) has a view of the bay itself, blending exterior ocean and interior art in a bridge between the two worlds.
Upstairs, Oscar Muñoz’s “Cortinas de bano” (Shower Curtains) has five shadowy images of people in various stages of showering hanging in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. The exterior light frames the nudes as silhouettes, rendering them as startlingly lifelike.
“The museum blends the outside and the inside,” says chief curator Tobias Ostrander. “We need more public spaces — in Miami, that’s pretty much the beach and the mall. This is a space to spend time in.”
It’s been a while in coming.
The museum began as the Center for Fine Arts in 1984, but had no holdings of its own. By 1996, it became the Miami Art Museum with a limited speciality in works from 1930 forward, especially art in the Americas.
But Miami was growing, the space was small and by 2004 the museum’s directors persuaded county taxpayers to support $100 million in bond funding for a new, larger museum. The city provided the bayfront location and longtime trustee Jorge M. Pérez (a real-estate developer worth, according to Forbes, $1.55 billion) donated $40 million in cash and artwork.
The new facility opened in December after three years of construction, with the building designed by the Swiss-based architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron. PAMM, meanwhile, had been growing modestly — the museum now holds 1,800 works — with an emphasis on 20th- and 21st-century art from the Americas, Western Europe and Africa.
Walking into the opening exhibition — “Americana,” a two-year cycle of changing installations — you’re struck by how open, how free-floating the museum is. There are six main galleries that are the backbone of the place, smaller “project” spaces and large “overview” ones, and you wander from one to the next in any number of ways, since several of the galleries have multiple openings.
In a darkened, small project gallery, “Inferno” plays. A new film by Israel-born director Yael Bartana, it details a mix of evangelism, pentecostalism and Judaica competing for influence in Brazil, as a religious order builds “the Third Temple of Solomon” in Sao Paolo.
Not far away, a survey of Cuban painter Amelia Peláez features more than 40 works. Colors explode off the canvas, the reds and deep amber yellows and shades of orange in 1941’s “Bandeja con frutas” (“Tray With Fruits”), the thin green line of the edge of the watermelon.
You’ll find Muñoz’s “Cortinas de bano” in a gallery thematically devoted to “Corporal Violence” in the Americas over the past decades, from Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, to Colombian drug cartels to the Americans waging war in Vietnam.
“Artists here are addressing the disappeared, fragmented or damaged human body to talk about political turmoil or institutionalized violence,” says Ostrander, the curator, in a short introductory video.
Adrian Esparza, based in El Paso, took a painterly perspective to working with the lowly Mexican serape. He cuts up the blankets, takes apart the multicolored strings and winds them between pins across an entire wall to create large-scale geometric shapes. For the Americana exhibit, he created “Wake and Wonder,” from serape threads. It’s dazzling.
The second floor is dominated by a major retrospective of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, previously shown at the Hirshhorn. (A vase in the exhibit was shattered last week by a local artist protesting the museum’s international focus.)
Most challenging here may be the (intentionally) less beautiful pieces — piles of rebar from school buildings that collapsed in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. Some 70,000 people died overall, with as many as 5,000 children killed when their poorly built school buildings collapsed around them. The rebar, piled here on the floor, stands in front of a wall listing the names of thousands of dead children — a reminder of the blunt, blistering power of art.
1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Admission: $12 adults, seniors and children, $8. Open Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m.-9p.m.305-375-3000. www.pamm.org.