To many in the art world, Miami means one thing: Art Basel Miami Beach, the art fair that, for a week in early December, grips the metropolitan area in a spasm of commerce, parties, and kibitzing. Miami is renowned as a place to buy and sell contemporary art, and the city is also home to marquee-name collectors, some of whom—notably, the Rubell, Margulies, de la Cruz, and Fontanals-Cisneros families—have opened their private collections to the public. Compared to these cutting-edge private collections, the Miami museums can seem a bit dull, but the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, which opens this month in a new building in the Design District, aims to rectify that imbalance.
“In an ecology that is not crowded with museums, we want to be specific and focus on the important connection between postwar and contemporary art,” says Alex Gartenfeld, the deputy director and chief curator of ICA Miami.
The history of ICA Miami is a bit convoluted. The institute descends from the Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened under that name in 1996 in a Charles Gwathmey–designed building in North Miami. In 2014, following the failure of a municipal-bond referendum to finance MOCA’s expansion, and the departure of the director, Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s board sued the city for the right to move. “It was in a neighborhood where there was no interest in what MOCA was doing,” observes Rosa de la Cruz, who, along with her husband, Carlos, had donated many works to the institution. The bitter divorce was eventually resolved, through arbitration, with a property settlement that divided the collection. The North Miami museum got to hold on to the original name but not the best art. The rechristened ICA Miami, meanwhile, decamped to a space in an Art Deco building in the Design District that de la Cruz once used as a gallery. It had stood vacant since the couple chose to focus on exhibiting their own art and opened the de la Cruz Collection in 2009, in a nearby 30,000-square-foot building.
The de la Cruzes invested in the area, spanning some 18 square blocks, because of their friendship with Craig Robins, a developer who, having spearheaded the rebirth of South Beach, went on to galvanize this formerly deteriorating warehouse district, which now boasts luxury-brand stores and glittering plazas. Three years ago, Robins was lunching with the car-dealership billionaire and philanthropist Norman Braman when he was offered an intriguing opportunity. “Norman said, ‘If you and your partners would donate the land, [my wife] Irma and I would contribute the cost to build the entire ICA building,’ ” recalls Robins, who did not refuse.
Gartenfeld showed me the space well before its scheduled opening on December 1. Designed by the Madrid-based Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos, it is a three-story glass-and-steel box, with a sculptural south facade of interlocking metal triangles and recessed colored light panels. On the ground floor are the galleries for the permanent collection (The Soup Course at the She-She Café, a popular installation by Nancy Reddin Kienholz and Edward Kienholz, will be the first thing visitors see), long-term loans (including a Robert Gober “Drain” sculpture), and a project space for emerging artists. Its north-facing floor-to-ceiling windows flood the galleries with light and afford treetop views of the Buena Vista neighborhood that borders the Design District, and along one side of the museum building is a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden. The top two floors will house temporary exhibitions.
The new ICA’s inaugural show, “The Everywhere Studio,” mixes colossi like Picasso with works by contemporary artists (like those on the following page), highlighting the processes by which modern and contemporary art is made. A memorable 2015 show at the Gagosian gallery in New York demonstrated the ways in which painters have portrayed their studios on their canvases.
But that exhibition ended in the late 20th century, before digital art, room-size installations, and other unconventional formats repositioned the contemporary artist’s studio to be, potentially, anywhere and everywhere. “It was really important that artists were at the center of the exhibition,” Ellen Salpeter, the director of ICA Miami, says. “At a time that is dominated by artistic consumption, we wanted to concentrate on artistic production. The whole point is how the studio is reflected in the work.”
Both Salpeter and Gartenfeld emphasize that the museum will be a showcase for emerging and under-recognized talent. “Sixty percent of our exhibitions will be the first U.S. museum exposure for the artists,” Gartenfeld says. In this first show, he notes, “We wanted to draw interesting lines between canonical names and less well-represented generational peers.” The three artists shown on the opposite page, who are at different stages of their careers, are included in the museum’s debut and embody its freewheeling spirit.
Andrea Zittel, 52, has designed uniforms, furniture, and residential modules. “My studio practice is the act of living in and with these things,” Zittel says, calling from her home and studio at the border of Joshua Tree National Park, in California. Her contribution to “The Everywhere Studio” is Free Running Rhythms and Patterns, Version II, which records her weeklong sojourn in 1999 in a windowless, soundproof basement studio in Berlin, without a clock or any other indicator of the passage of time. The frustrating challenge of the piece, she says, was the realization that she could document, but not convey, the experience. “The communication is always flawed,” she admits. “When I first did that piece, it was agonizing to think how I would convey that, and then I realized you never can.”
An ebullient artist in her mid-70s whose paintings only recently have achieved commercial success, Joyce Pensato takes a more direct approach to transmitting her experience in the studio: She packs up parts of it and sends them out. Known for her expressionistic black and white renditions of pop-culture icons like Mickey Mouse, she inhabits a paint-splattered workplace in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, filled with hardening brushes in paint cans, rows of empty turpentine tins, and the battered toys that serve as her models. In 2012, when she was moving out of a studio after 32 years, she pulled up a piece of the paint-caked wood floor and removed a section of the wall. “To me, everything looks great, so I thought, Why not show it?” she recalls. “How could I leave it for this idiot landlord?” (At the Petzel Gallery, these salvaged remnants were the first pieces to sell in her show that year.) ICA Miami will feature re-created sections of her current studio. “For anyone who knows the old one,” she says wistfully, “this one is superclean.”
Matthew Angelo Harrison
At 27, Matthew Angelo Harrison is the youngest artist in the ICA Miami show. He lives and works in Detroit, and until recently was employed at a Ford facility, hand-making models with plasticine clay. As an artist, though, he uses sculptural 3-D printers that he designs and fabricates himself from steel, aluminum, and marble; the machines, in turn, follow his programmed directions to produce ceramic objects whose subject matter revolves around representations of black identity. “The performative aspects of using a 3-D printer in a show is what I’m interested in,” he says, speaking by phone from his studio, which is located down the street from the automotive-parts factory, now closed, that employed his mother when he was growing up. “Work is for machines,” he said. “Humans aren’t designed to do labor.” Reacting against the preternaturally slick sculptures produced by artists like Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, he sets his printers to work at low resolution, making sure the imperfections and variability that appeal to him come through.