January 3, 2014

The Port: Boats, pearls, crabs: new museum channels Miami

Model yachts, rustic fishing boats and wooden rafts dangle above visitors as they step into the new Pérez Art Museum Miami. The colorful display is both a playful nod to South Florida's maritime culture and a somber reference to the perilous journeys many make to get here.

It is the perfect entry to a museum that channels the city around it: whimsical, vibrant, brimming with culture from across the Americas - and yes, a work in progress.

The museum, which opened in December, still lacks a permanent blockbuster, but its retrospective of Chinese master and political dissident Ai Weiwei, on display through mid-March, should temporarily satisfy. And the museum's eclectic and provocative collection, coupled with its bay front location, has quickly turned the PAMM - as locals already call it - into a must-see destination for tourists and natives.

"Our biggest competition down here isn't the other cultural institutions. It's the beach, the water," Museum director Thom Collins said. "So, rather than compete, the museum embraces its surroundings."

As in the rest of Miami's booming downtown, visitors to the Pérez Museum are immediately greeted by construction along the museum's front plaza and at the site of a neighboring science museum, set to open in 2015. Once under the PAMM's shaded deck, though, Ai Weiwei's mammoth bronze animal Zodiac Heads welcome guests, and the call of gulls and ocean breezes take over.

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