Painting The Town

For PAMM Museum Director, Miami Is A Vibrant City Filled With Endless Possibilities
Franklin Sirmans became the director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami in October 2015. Photo courtesy of Angel Valentin. Above, photo courtesy of Robin Hill.
Franklin Sirmans
Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami

Franklin Sirmans recalls being surrounded by art for as long as he can remember. "My father was interested in art as a collector," says the museum director. His father, a doctor, collected work by African American artists. Plus, growing up in Harlem, Sirmans had access to New York's museums. He remembers visiting the Natural History Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a child.

"I don't think I fully appreciated what art was until I discovered it was more than something that had to be on a wall, or that just stood still."

Sirmans stands against Lawrence Weiner's A Wall Built To Face The Land & Face The Water At The Level Of The Sea. Photo courtesy of Angel Valentin.
Dual Identities
A Tale Of Two Cities

It was the mid-1980s in New York City, when Sirmans was in his teens, that he began seeing art that actually did something. “I was aware of what was happening in terms of graffiti, and artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat" he says.

In October 2015, Sirmans arrived in Miami to serve as director of PAMM from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he had been department head and curator of contemporary art since 2010. "Miami is a bit like L.A.," he says. "They're both young cities, whereas in places like New York, Boston, and Chicago, you have this deep history. Here, like L.A., we're not boxed in by tradition and history in quite the same way."

Originally the Center for Fine Arts; then the Miami Art Museum, the new cutting-edge PAMM facility designed by Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, opened to the public 2013. Photo courtesy of Angel Valentin.
Meeting The Magic City
Beginning With Art Basel

Miami wasn't exactly new terrain for Sirmans, who has been coming to the city annually for the past 15 years to attend Art Basel Miami Beach; and in 2009, "NeoHooDoo: Art For A Forgotten Faith," an exhibition he curated while working at The Menil Collection in Houston, came to the Miami Art Museum—which is now PAMM.

The new building, opened in 2013, overlooking Biscayne Bay was originally the Center for Fine Arts, then the Miami Art Museum. It was renamed the Pérez Art Museum Miami (or PAMM) after Cuban-American real estate developer, Jorge Pérez, donated $40 million to the museum—half in cash, and half in artwork from his personal Latin American art collection.

Many days, Franklin Sirmans strolls the galleries and interacts with first-time visitors. Photo courtesy of Angel Valentin.
Modern Take
Exploring All Dimensions

For Sirmans, the contemporary building "surrounded by glass on the water" provides a more welcoming space. "We have a chance to introduce kids who will have their first opportunity to engage with a museum that looks like this. There's no Greco-Roman architecture here."

The museum director doesn't believe in being holed up in an administrative office, so oftentimes you'll see the genial Sirmans strolling the galleries interacting with visitors. "Hopefully, you've sparked something within them." And, it's representative of what he believes should be the experience at a museum. "Taking in art should be part of thinking about life, and just being able to pause for a moment within the daily run of everything."

Local Recommendations

Surveying The Landscape

Franklin Sirmans has lived and worked in major cities like Milan, Houston, and Los Angeles, but, he says, Miami is a different kind of place. "It's unique in its own way." The city invigorates him, and he delights in discovering its many nuances.

Where The Grass Is Greener

Off The Grid

While Miami isn't teeming with green space, Franklin Sirmans unearths three urban parks that soften the presence of towering condos, which dominate the skyline. "Miami can seem to be building upon building, and filled with construction, but these parks give us a sense of possibility," says Sirmans. Steps away from PAMM is Bayfront Park (301 N. Biscayne Blvd.; 305-358-7550), which separates the downtown from Biscayne Bay. Home to a large amphitheater and an open-air pavilion, it is the perfect spot for outdoor music festivals, which run the gamut from Caribbean to techno. The park is also base camp for the Flying Trapeze School, where those with a daring streak can learn to fly through the air. Vacant and blighted land became something beautiful when Omni Park (1234 N. Miami Ave.;305-484-8948) was created under a superhighway. The neighborhood buzzes with activity at the seven-acre park, which is outfitted with skateboard ramps, and a music stage, and where yogis attend free classes hosted every Saturday at 10 a.m. Check out the easternmost Art Parcel, with public art commissioned by PAMM by local artist Michael Loveland. At the eight-acre waterfront Margaret Pace Park (1745 Bayshore Dr.; 305-350-7938), with its sweeping vistas of Biscayne Bay, take a stroll along the drive, and pause on one of the three elaborate thrones, the product of a public-art project by local students, which evoke the influences of Jewish, Spanish, and African-American heritage on South Florida.

Tennis Anyone?

The Best Tennis Courts In Miami

Sirmans, an avid tennis player, has a few favorite spots around town. The Tennis Center at Crandon Park (7300 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne; 305-365-2300;) is one of his preferred locations. Chances are you may be playing on the same courts that Serena Williams or Roger Federer once did: Crandon Park has hosted the 12-day Miami Open since 1987.

Inside Morningside Park (750 N.E. 55th Ter.; 305-795-1834), Sirmans says you'll find the friendly face of tennis pro Tim Barrow, who is always there to fix any aspect of your game, no matter your age or skill level. "I love it here because of the neighborhood feel; it's nestled into a residential area," he says.

Finding The Muse

Images, Art, And All That Jazz

When he wants to see what's happening on the ground among artists in Miami, Sirmans heads north to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (770 N.E. 125 St.; 305-893-6211). The large-scale works and installations, some of which are co-owned by Tate Museum, London, are its hallmarks, and this is where to see newer, experimental pieces, which are a large part of its 700-work permanent collection. There's also a lively Jazz at MOCA series, where admission is free on the last Friday night of each month. Another great jazz club is Floyd Miami (34 N.E. 11th St.; 305-363-2120), where the vibe is speakeasy, the cocktails classic, and the live music is top-knotch. To feel as if you've really gone back in time, venture into the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives (300 N.E. 2nd Ave., Suite #8406; 305-237-7731), where 35,000 hours of video tape and 23 million feet of film document Florida’s history, some of it home movies dating to 1910. It's one of the few repositories of its kind open to the public in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Adinayev.

Be A Sport

Root For The Home Teams

A stone's throw from the art museum is American Airlines Arena (601 Biscayne Blvd.; 786-777-1000), home to the NBA's Miami Heat. "When the players are giving it their all, and the place is buzzing, it's like no other arena in the country," says Sirmans. During off season, or when the team is on the road, the "Triple A," as locals call it, hosts arena tours with headliners like Paul McCartney and Coldplay. Baseball season draws fans to the site of the former Orange Bowl, Marlins Park (501 Marlins Way; 305-480-1300), built in 2012. "I like watching the slow game of baseball every now and then with friends and family," says Sirmans. Since the venue is air conditioned with a retractable roof, Miami's humidity or sudden rains don't interfere with game time. Thanks to Miami-Dade County's Art in Public Places, established in 1973, contemporary works by well-known artists are placed throughout the stadium. Look for Joan Miró’s Figures Mountains Sky Star & Bird, located at the home plate entrance and Roy Lichtenstein’s Baseball Manager, at section 19 on the promenade level, along with pieces by nine other artists. Daniel Arsham's zany Orange Bowl Tribute at the East Plaza, an installation intended to show what the Orange Bowl letters would have looked like if they naturally fell to the ground, certainly makes a statement.

Dining Out

Enjoy Diverse Global Flavors

In Miami, dining-out runs the gamut from celebrity chef-driven hotspots to tucked-away gems specializing in recipes handed down through generations. Locals thought they'd lost Miami's best Jamaican restaurant when Clive's Cafe (5890 N.W. 2nd Ave.; 305-757-6512)was forced to move out of Wynwood, but the restaurant has since found a new home in Little Haiti. Specialties of the house include jerk chicken or pork with rice and beans, savory curry goat, and stewed oxtail. In the business-minded Brickell neighborhood, Toscana Divino (900 S. Miami Ave.; 305-371-2767) serves up traditional Italian fare. The pasta is made by hand, and the Tuscan-heavy wine cellar features more 2,000 bottles. For an adventure in eating, book a table at Alter by Brad Kilgore (223 N.W. 23rd St.; 305-573-5996) . Kilgore was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2016, a year after opening the trendy Wynwood eatery. The tasting menus of five- and seven-courses feature some of the chef’s best dishes, such as lamb ribeye, and turbot with Indian spices.