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An Interview With PAMM Director Thom Collins

The museum's director doesn't expect you to love everything in the museum. He doesn't even really want to you to.

Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN
PAMM Director Thom Collins (right) explains the nuts, bolts, bells and whistles behind the museum, alongside architect Jacques Herzon of the firm Herzon and de Meuron.

Here's an edited version of the interview with Thom Collins, but we do recommend listening -- he has a really good voice.

AZ: What does it mean to create a museum for this community?

TC: We look at the diversity of this community, and we use it as an index. We'll grow audiences here, who will be able to see themselves in what we do. This is critically important. But I think from the outside, particularly our peer institutions in North America will recognize that even though our programs are broad --20th and 21st-century art from around the world--that [they are] weighted more heavily toward the Americas, weighted more heavily toward the Caribbean. But we're also opening with a mid-career survey of the work of Ai WeiWei, the great Chinese artist

AZ:  You've talked about how you see this building (designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron) as a means to an end. What does that mean?

TC: The building is spectacular--functional and beautiful. But I would say that the contemporary visual arts have a special power to change the way people think, feel and then behave. ... We have thought very carefully about how to mediate sometimes difficult content. 

Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN
The new museum is filled with natural light and places to sit and ponder. The images in this room are meant to resemble a Google search.

AZ: Like what?

TC: Oftentimes, contemporary art is provocative, it's disturbing, and for many people off-putting, at first. And I think we can't as an institution offer people things that they love all the time, or that they'd want to live with. But what we can offer them is works of art that we think fold together important ideas. 

AZ: Can you point to something that falls into that basket for you?

TC: My experience over time with the work of Jackson Pollock from the latter part of the forties and the early 1950s, the work that's sometimes referred to as his "poured paintings," coming to understand that that work ultimately is a visual metaphor for the human psyche traumatized by all of the cataclysms and tragedies of the previous decades -- the global economic depression, world wars, genocides, the Stalinist purges, the advent of nuclear war--and understand that work, which, taken at face value, seems to be about nothing. 

AZ: Is there a work in this collection that is closest to your heart? 

TC: ... A piece by the artist Hew Locke, who was born in Guyana but lives in London now. He created a new work for us called "For Those in Peril on the Sea." It's hanging in the lobby, so it will be for most visitors their introduction to what we do at the museum. It comprises 60-plus handmade boats ... that hang over the head of the viewer, so you're actually looking at them from underneath as if under the water. I think the idea of migration--so many people in this community have come here from somewhere else--and that this community is at the center of economic, social, political and cultural exchange, this piece really touches on so many of those ideas in the most beautiful and compelling fashion. 

Credit Daniel Azoulay / Daniel Azoulay Photography
Daniel Azoulay Photography
Hew Locke's installation, For Those in Peril on the Sea, in PAMM's lobby

The museum will be free for Miami-Dade residents for the first week. After that, it's free every Thursday night and one Saturday a month. For more information go to www.pamm.org or call 305.375.3000.

Alicia Zuckerman is Editorial Director at WLRN, where she edits narrative and investigative audio journalism. In 2020, she was named Editor of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter.
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