The Pérez Art Museum Miami collection focuses on modern and contemporary art. While it includes examples from as early as the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of the artwork housed in the collection is by living artists and has been produced during the last several decades. While this emphasis on contemporary artistic practices informs the museum’s collecting and programming, the museum continually looks to emphasize connections between our current moment and a longer history of art.
Informed by these interests in art history, the current presentation of the permanent collection—installed thematically within two rooms on the first floor and four rooms on the second—is organized around the historical criteria of genres within Western painting and the traditional hierarchy of genres that developed out of the Renaissance period and was promoted within European art academies up through the 19th century.
The five genres explored in these galleries, Still Life, Landscape, Scenes of Everyday Life, Portraiture, and History Painting developed as categories when painting was still in its infancy as a respected medium. Each category was meant to highlight the intellectual rigor of the medium. The hierarchy that formed between genres placed still life at the lowest end of the intellectual spectrum, as it involved the representation of inanimate objects, and history painting at the highest level of artistic achievement, as it depicted human subjects involved in allegorical themes related to religion, mythology, or historical events.
These academic categories were challenged in the 19th century with the development of modernism and the avant-garde. However, the distinct characteristics and the symbolism traditionally associated with each genre have continued to resonate over the past century. The five genres serve as a productive point of dialogue with contemporary artwork created within an expanded field of artistic practices, including not only painting but also photography, video, and installation. Within Genres engages the critical space of genres as a creative referent and in doing so seeks to articulate a trans-historical approach to the investigation and exhibition of our museum’s collection, one that celebrates its contemporary vibrancy and historical continuity.
Scenes of Everyday Life
The genre of Scenes of Everyday Life historically presented non-allegorical renditions of everyday activities and contexts, including views of the street, markets, drinking sites, and rural celebrations, and the depiction of daily chores pursued within home settings. Often including anecdotal, humorous, or sentimental subjects, works from this genre were extremely popular with the growing bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries. This gallery interprets the genre through artworks that depict elements observed on the street, views and details from domestic interiors, as well as representations of sites of leisure and recreation.
The still life genre is known for its depiction of inanimate objects. These have traditionally included materials from the natural world such as flowers, bones, fruit, and food, as well as manufactured items such as plates, glasses, musical instruments, jewelry, or other personal adornments. Elements depicted in still life paintings were often tied to religious themes and messages, and allegorical in meaning. Seventeenth century Dutch still life represents the genre at its most elaborate and hyperrealist stage. The Dutch repeatedly articulated vanitas themes in the still life paintings of the era, using luxury objects as reminders of the impermanence of life and the ephemeral nature of riches and sensual pleasures. Later, within avant-garde movements such as Fauvism and Cubism, the genre became an active tool for radical experimentations with color and form.
These artworks from the permanent collection explore the cultural, political, and emotive potential of objects. They include still life representations in a range of forms, from modernist paintings to more recent works engaged with photography, digital media, sculpture, and installation. From the presentation of everyday domestic objects to commodities and ceremonial displays, these artworks speak to how inanimate objects continually engage our attention, desires, and memories.
Regarded as the highest form of Western painting within the hierarchy of genres, history painting was fine art’s equivalent to the literary epic. Due to its lofty goal of moving the viewer ethically and emotionally through the depiction of grand narratives taken from history, and the fact that it required mastery of all the other genres, history painting was considered the most challenging genre for artists. Developed from the Renaissance onward, the genre traditionally engaged biblical or mythical narratives, but, through the centuries, was used increasingly to address secular subjects, such as specific battles, celebrations, or momentous events.
The contemporary works selected to dialogue with this genre each incorporate historical material in ways that question how history itself is constructed, documented, and used. These works bring together objects, images, and performances that reference multiple time periods simultaneously and engage ancient sites, antique and modern sources, as well as contemporary media forms.
The landscape genre developed during the Renaissance period as nature scenery, which had previously been merely background imagery in religious paintings, became subject matter in its own right. As the genre developed, grand views of the natural world were increasingly associated with spirituality and psychological states. These associations intensified during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century with its pursuit of representations of “the sublime,” an internal feeling of power, awe and extreme beauty associated with the natural world. Palm trees and tropical scenes begin to appear in the genre from the late 17th century onwards, as part of European expansionist and colonial interests in the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. Representations of indigenous landscapes became tied to nationalist ideologies in both Europe and the Americas beginning in the 19th century.
The contemporary works on view interpret these historical referents within the landscape genre in diverse ways. This presentation places particular emphasis on tropical scenes and seascapes from PAMM’s collection, as they dialogue with Miami’s natural environment and resonate with similar contexts internationally. Landscapes are continually defined by the bodies that interact or migrate through them, and the emotive histories carried by these individuals are highlighted in many of the artworks on view.
Portraiture was considered one of the top genres in the hierarchy of painting genres because of the intellectual rigor required to represent the human figure. Historically executed for royalty and the nobility, use of the genre expanded significantly for the wealthy European merchant classes during the Baroque period of the 17th century. Later, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was increased democratization of portrait subjects, with particular emphasis placed on self-portraits by avant-garde artists. Over its long history, portrait painting developed various lighting conventions, as well as a range of distinct framing formats—from “full length,” to “three-quarter view,” or “head and shoulder (bust).” Value has traditionally been placed on how portraits convey the inner character of the individuals depicted, versus accurately representing his or her likeness. This process often produced overtly flattering or embellished representations.
The contemporary figurative works in this collection play with portraiture’s interest in revealing a “true essence” of the individuals depicted. The works portray their subjects in exaggerated or masked forms that incorporate traditions of drag, the carnivalesque, and caricature. These works additionally critique the genre’s history as a tool of the wealthy and powerful through the artists’ depictions of populations that have historically been marginalized and unrepresented in the portrait genre.
Highlights from the Exhibition
Within Genres is organized by PAMM Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander.