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WLRN TV At PAMM's Opening Day

Daniel Hicks

It's been a race against time to open the new Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) in time for South Florida's annual Art Basel extravaganza.

PAMM is the latest cultural landmark to appear on the shores of Biscayne Bay, and it replaces the old Center for Fine Arts just a few blocks away in downtown Miami.

"[The Center for Fine Arts] was planned in the latter part of the 1970s in response to the wave of King Tut mania that swept the United States," says Thom Collins, PAMM's artistic director. "The popularity of that exhibition inspired cities like Miami that didn't have their own dedicated exhibition spaces to build such spaces."

The new museum was built to satisfy a growing thirst for more educational and social space to complement Miami's modern evolution as a gateway to the Americas.

It's named for its main benefactor, billionaire businessman and real estate developer George Perez.

The new building features programmable exhibition galleries, classrooms for children and spectacular views of Biscayne Bay. Its open structure fills the free-flowing galleries with natural light. Floor-to-ceiling windows are made of the largest sheets of hurricane-resistant glass ever made. The over-hanging roof provides just enough shade so that direct sunlight cannot damage the art work. Wrap-around verandas feature giant, hanging gardens that further connect the museum to the surrounding greenery of an adjacent park.

The concept is the work of Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron, who also designed the Lincoln Road car park in Miami Beach and the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

But local inspiration came from historic, weekend cottages known as Stiltsville, which still exist in the middle of Biscayne Bay and are accessible only by boat. The museum's design borrows from Stiltsville's wrap-around decks and large roofs.

The art exhibitions inside the $220 million complex fall under the purview of chief curator Tobias Ostrander, an expert on Latin American art who joined PAMM after leading the Tamayo Art Museum in Mexico City. He wants PAMM to connect South Floridians to outside artists as well as broader, global trends. 

"Miami is well known for Miami Art Basel and people here are very familiar with contemporary art," Ostrander says. "But while galleries and commercial spaces are very important, it's important to see that art can also be about purely generating ideas."

Aside from PAMM's growing, permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, the museum opens with two big shows by Cuban modernist Amelia Pelaez and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei.

When the Frost Science Museum opens next door in 2015, Miami's 29-acre Bicentennial Park will be no more, and the city's Museum Park will be in full bloom. Building on Art Basel's success, PAMM is the next big step toward making South Florida an artistic magnet for people around the world.