Unwrap This

BY MICHELE PAYER

The new Institute of Contemporary Art Miami opens to the public just in time for the holiday season, but is set to be the gift that keeps on giving to art lovers everywhere.

One of the all-time greatest gifts to Miami and its visitors will be unveiled December 1, when the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) opens its new, three-story, 37,500-square-foot museum and 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden funded by Norman and Irma Braman on Design District property donated by developer Craig Robins. “Norman came home and said, ‘I bought you a museum,’” says world-renowned art collector and ICA Board Co-Chair Irma Braman, speaking about the museum’s beginnings. “I think I went blank at the news,” she laughs. “Have you ever done something and afterwards you think you were in shock?”

It was during a simple lunch three years ago between Braman and Robins that conversation turned to a prime piece of land and a potential cultural anchor for the Design District, a destination packed with designer boutiques, restaurants and art to lure visitors and residents for an hour or an entire day, thanks to subsidized $5 valet parking.

“Art has always been central to our ethos, in which we’re creating a cultural laboratory of sorts,” says Robins about the area he put on the map, which is still seeing non-stop construction. “Each offering plays into another to give guests a fully rounded experience each time they visit, and now ICA makes the District an even more robust destination.”

While no one knows its price tag (“I’m the only one who knows the cost, and I’m not telling,” says Mrs. Braman), ICA is Miami’s largest privately funded museum, has a board of about 30 people, is helmed by museum veterans Director Ellen Salpeter and Deputy Director and Chief Curator Alex Gartenfeld, and has virtual autonomy in its decisions about what kind of museum it wants to be.

First and foremost, it is entirely free, meaning those finding themselves in the Design District for lunch can pop in to visit one of the galleries or sit in the sculpture garden, perhaps with a split of champagne, and contemplate art, or make a day of it. Its urban oasis amidst quiet, historic neighborhoods and their lofty tree canopies was forefront for Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos, a Spanish firm that designed the three-story building with a dramatic southern entrance, soft oak wood floors (i.e., easy on the feet) and abundant windows that allow natural light to pour into 20,000 square feet of adjustable gallery and exhibition space.

What can visitors expect?
THE EVERYWHERE STUDIO: The museum’s inaugural 13,000+-square-foot exhibit takes visitors into artists’ studios, not by recreating them but by tracing the impact and influence of more than 50 artists from post-war to present day. “The work that’s in the show and that comes out of their studios will tell the story. We have everyone from Pablo Picasso to Yves Klein to Roy Lichtenstein,” says Salpeter about the ground-floor gallery that comprises six intimate galleries.

A long-term Robert Gober exhibit on loan from the Bramans will be up for several years. The first is an untitled series of 22 photographs (1978-2000) interspersed with political newspaper clippings. The earliest images document a road trip made by the artist in 1978, while images from 2000 depict debris washed up on a pebble beach. Together, they offer a satirical view of the American government and society and highlight the inequalities and limitations encountered based on one’s sexual orientation and race. The photographic series is installed alongside one of Gober’s iconic untitled drain works (1993-94), which references domesticity and personal hygiene as well as broader sociopolitical themes. The exhibit has rarely been seen publicly.

Other notable works include a planned two-year exhibition by Chris Ofili (his first Miami museum show); the Kienholz collection, and works from the Hélio Oiticica estate (straight off a retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art), emerging Miami artist Tomm El-Saieh and Senga Nengudi, who was part of the “Black Radical Women” show at the Brooklyn Museum and is showing a relatively unknown body of work that’s made up of dry cleaner bags from the ‘90s.

“The inaugural exhibition reflects a number of key ambitions of ICA Miami,” says ICA Deputy Director and Chief Curator Alex Gartenfeld. “The first is to create accessible programs that features the most important art of our time. The Everywhere Studio reflects the spirit of the museum by exploring the key role the lives and works of artists have in understanding our world. And finally, these exhibitions demonstrate the expanded mission of the museum, to look critically at the canon of post-war artists by representing and highlighting under-known artists of merit.”

What else?
STAIRWAY COMMISSION: Because stairwells are about more than getting from one floor to the next, a dramatic two-story installation by Charles Gaines will animate the museum’s main passageway and rise more than 40 feet. His works, such as the gridded, serial images of trees painted on Plexiglas, explores the artist’s application of seriality on a massive scale.

SCULPTURE GARDEN: The lush contemplative space fronting a residential neighborhood will highlight Three Figures and Four Benches, a sculpture by renowned Pop artist George Segal; a large-scale installation by Puerto Ricans Allora and Calzadilla that features their signature use of machinery and is a socio-political statement how US policies toward the Caribbean have impacted the region and its diaspora; a bent telephone pole-star sculpture by Miami-based artist Mark Handforth, and a new work by Bronx-born artist Abigail DeVille that reflects on Miami’s rich and diverse social history.

ADD TO ALL THIS: “Family Day,” the third Sunday of every month in partnership with the Design District, “ICA Speaks,” which brings artists to speak about a variety of topics, “Art and Research Center,” a graduate-level critical theory program in partnership with FIU that accommodates 10 students and 10 community members (from 100 applications) with a final-night public seminar, a Learning Center on the museum’s third floor, the “Next Group,” for people under age 39 who come for lectures, art studio and private collection visits, and “The Young Artists Initiative,” for high school teens who are interested in a career in arts.

“ICA meets people where they are,” says Salpeter about the museum in which she wants everyone to feel welcome. “You don’t have to have a degree in art history or be a contemporary art enthusiast to walk in here and find a moment that is enjoyable or that you question or that sparks curiosity.” Another ICA welcome? A new public sculpture in partnership with Miami Design District Associates that greets visitors from Federal Highway in a most striking way with two monumental works by Sol LeWitt (renowned, deceased post-war artist) that haven’t been seen in more than 30 years.

Just in time for the holidays. What a gift indeed.

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