When It Comes to Contemporary Art, Miami Wants More, More, More

When It Comes to Contemporary Art, Miami Wants More, More, More


Like PAMM, the Bass is a public-private hybrid. The city of Miami Beach provided a $7.5 million construction grant, in addition to a $650,000 annual subsidy and handling building maintenance. The museum is run by a private board responsible for the rest of its $3.5 million yearly budget. Accordingly, while renovations removed an indoor pedestrian ramp and doubled its exhibition and classroom spaces, the exterior of its 1930s Art Deco building remained largely unchanged “to stay within our budget,” Ms. Cubiñá noted. “I don’t want to be fund-raising for air-conditioning.”

Ms. Cubiñá said she hopes the museum’s location, a block from the ocean, continues fostering a connection with potential Miami Beach donors looking to support a museum in their backyard. And there’s a built-in audience: “Here we have so many people already visiting, going to the beach, or just taking a walk and they bump into us!”

If all that fails to keep the Bass afloat, Ms. Cubiñá, like the ICA Miami, has her own billionaire to fall back on: George Lindemann. The president of her museum’s board since 2008, Mr. Lindemann, his sister Sloan, and his older brother, Adam (also a well-known art collector), are heirs to a family fortune that Forbes estimates at $3.2 billion.

Mr. Lindemann said making the Bass sustainable was key. “It was kind of like a start-up, yet we had a 40-year history to work with,” he said, recalling the Miami Beach city manager’s initial request that he leave PAMM’s board of trustees to helm the then-moribund Bass board. His first task was to address the museum’s troubled origins. Opened in 1964 as a showcase for a collection of old masters and Modern paintings donated by the retired sugar baron John Bass, many of the artworks — including a supposedly second “Mona Lisa” — turned out to be fakes or misattributed. In a 1969 report, the Art Dealers Association of America called the Bass’s collection “the most flagrant and pervasive mislabeling by any museum known to the association.”

Even Pablo Picasso weighed in. When the ADA sent him a photo of one of his pastels owned by the Bass, he mailed it back with his artwork’s signature crossed out and faux, French for false, handwritten underneath it.

Mr. Lindemann considered changing the museum’s name. “But then we wouldn’t have the lovely building or the city support,” he said, citing city contracts dating to the 1960s as well as their already established museum accreditation and track record of landing grants. “The whole ‘fake’ thing is yesterday’s news,” he continued. “Today, I don’t think people feel burdened by the name.”

Still, he appreciates Mr. Bass’s sense of spectacle, including the museum’s Egyptian mummies — now on display as part of an installation by the Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou, who pairs his own recent work with antiquities from the Bass’s (now thoroughly vetted) collection.

The ICA Miami would seem perfectly primed to pick up on that challenge of moving beyond the narrow confines of the contemporary milieu and showing the full history of art. After all, its main patrons, the Bramans, own masterworks spanning the last century, from Joan Miró to Mark Rothko. Indeed, Mr. Braman has lent a stunning Yves Klein painting and a giant Roy Lichtenstein canvas for the new museum’s opening exhibition, “The Everywhere Studio.” But beyond a few token nods, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator, Alex Gartenfeld, appears largely uninterested in taking a deep dive into earlier eras of art. And Mr. Braman says he won’t force the curatorial issue — for the same reason his own name isn’t on the museum’s facade.

“We don’t want the museum to be construed as ours, it’s the community’s museum,” Mr. Braman said. “It’s just not our style to put our names on the philanthropy we’ve done. It’s not in the Jewish tradition of tzedakah,” of civic responsibility.

In keeping with its prescribed mission, the ICA Miami certainly holds its own within the contemporary sphere, in the process introducing several lesser-known talents to a wider audience. A highlight is a room of massive abstract paintings by Tomm El-Saieh, whom Mr. Gartenfeld praised as “one of the leading artists working in Miami today” for his drawing upon both expressionist and Haitian folkloric traditions.

At PAMM, Mr. Sirmans insisted he would always make room for an informed dose of art history. He pointed out the museum’s current pairing of two early-20th-century paintings by Joaquín Torres-García with a fresh-out-of-the-studio work by Njideka Akunyili Crosby — all three canvases exploring kindred issues of identity.

But was he daunted by his fund-raising competitors, those new museums sprouting up? “We’re a city that values culture,” he said. “What better way to demonstrate that than to make temples to culture?”

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