Miami’s new modern and contemporary art museum, renamed the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), opens today with exhibitions that reflect its growing strengths as a collecting institution. Contemporary art, in the form of a 20-year survey of works by Ai Wei Wei and new monumental sculptures by Jedd Novatt, are surrounded by smaller shows of art, video, sculpture and installations by Yael Bartana, Bouchra Kahlil, Hew Locke, and Monika Sosnowska. The modernist Cuban painter Amelia Pelaez, a contemporary of Wilfredo Lam and Fidelio Ponce de Leon, is presented in the context of the changing culture and urban landscape of Havana during the first half of the 20th century.
Image Search, the inaugural exhibition of photographs, is drawn from the museum's permanent collection, with special emphasis on the Cowles Collection. This gift of more than one hundred iconic works of the 20th century includes photographs by Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Rineke Dijkstra.
Tina Barney, The Dining Hall, 2010. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, promised gift of Charles Cowles. © Tina Barney.
The Cowles Collection was featured in the museum’s 2007 exhibition, Modern Photographs: The Machine, the Body and the City, which was curated by Andy Grundberg, Administrative Chair of Photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. and former photography critic at The New York Times. The show then traveled to the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY.
Cowles, the stepson of Gardner Cowles, co-founder of Look magazine, had his first summer job at that magazine at age 14. After graduating from Stanford University in 1963, he took an internship at the newly launched Artforum magazine. When the publisher told him the magazine was broke and would have to fold, Cowles offered to buy it. He did, then moved it from Los Angeles to New York City. After running Artforum for 10 years, Cowles became a curator at the Seattle Art Museum, which he left In1980 to open his own gallery in New York.
When the show was installed at the Parrish Art Museum (in 2008, the year Cowles closed his gallery), he
said in an interview that he didn’t set out to amass a collection that reflects the evolution of photography through the 20th century. He just buys what he likes and always
has. In explaining how he decides what to buy he said, “It’s very random. I see something I like, I get it. In some instances, it may be by a well known photographer,
but it’s not his most famous image.”
One of his first major acquisitions was a late 1920s Walker Evans photo of truckers moving a sign that reads “Damaged.” “I didn’t buy it because it was by Walker Evans, but because of the word,” explained Cowles. “My friend Ed Ruscha had used the same word in his work.”
What Cowles liked in photography has turned out to be some of the most iconic images by some of the most renowned artists of the past 100 years, including Cindy Sherman, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Joel-Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus, Andres Serrano, and Andy Warhol. The show at PAMM continues through July 27, 2014.
The Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL. Information.