Franklin Sirmans Takes the Helm at Pérez Art Museum


The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has appointed Franklin Sirmans its new director, effective October 15. Sirmans, age 46, has been department head and curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 2010. He succeeds Thom Collins, who left PAMM in March for a position as president and director of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. During his five years at PAMM, Collins oversaw the completion in December 2013 of an acclaimed new building by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, featuring more than 200,000 square feet of programmable space.

Sirmans comes to PAMM at a moment when many of the city’s arts organizations are marked by transition. The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, which opened last December in a temporary space in Moore Building, is searching for a new director while the museum’s new headquarters are still under construction in the design district. The Bass Museum of Art, in Miami Beach, is in the middle of a major renovation, scheduled for completion in fall 2016. Timothy Rodgers, former director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, was appointed director this spring at the Wolfsonian-FIU, an art and design museum, library and research center focused on modernism, at Florida International University’s Miami Beach branch.

Sirmans, for his part, is optimistic about the city’s art scene and the museum’s continued growth. In an interview with the New York Times, he described himself as confident about taking on PAMM’s fundraising challenges. (The museum’s chair Aaron Podhurst told the Times that the institution has raised only $20 million of its projected $70 million endowment.)

Speaking to A.i.A. by phone from Miami, where he flew this week to announce his appointment to PAMM’s staff, Sirmans said the city is “about to go into a very interesting and dynamic moment.” The incoming director, who served as curator of modern and contemporary art at the Menil Collection in Houston, Tex., before going to LACMA, related how, in both cities, he was able to observe a cultural ecology emerge from different institutions functioning together. Citing Houston’s museum strength, he said, “As a whole, it helps makes that city important and enriches it in many ways. And there’s a similar foundation for what is happening here in Miami.”

The Pérez and LACMA, he added, have another point in common—their institutional youth. LACMA celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, while the Pérez (which originally opened under the name Center for Fine Arts in 1984 and became the Miami Art Museum in 1994) assumed its new identity in 2013. “It’s so fresh, and there’s so much possibility and opportunity in these moments of incubation,” Sirmans said.

Sirmans, with a long and impressive resumé, seems poised to help the museum enter its next phase. In collaboration with Yael Lipschutz, he curated “Noah Purifoy: Junk Dada”, a retrospective of the under-recognized African-American artist (the subject of a feature in A.i.A.‘s September issue) on view at LACMA through Sept. 27. His LACMA credits also include shows of Glenn Ligon’s and Blinky Palermo’s work. In 2014, Sirmans was artistic director of the well-received third edition of the Prospect biennial in New Orleans, which included more than 50 artists and spanned 18 venues. At the Menil, he organized exhibitions of works by Vija Celmins, Maurizio Cattelan and the group NeoHooDoo. Before that, he served as curatorial advisor at MoMA PS1 and curated exhibitions such as the Brooklyn Museum blockbuster “Basquiat” (2005) and “One Planet Under a Groove: Hip-Hop and Contemporary Art” at the Bronx Museum (2002). He also worked as an editor at Flash Art and ArtAsiaPacific.

Sirmans says PAMM’s location in Miami—at the crossroads of North and South America—makes it uniquely positioned. The work in the Pérez collection and the museum’s recent programming, including a midcareer retrospective of Beatriz Milhazes, organized by chief curator Tobias Ostrander, ground the museum in modernism and Latin American art. “It gives us a foundation that is unlike anywhere else, and something to build upon when emphasizing contemporary art,” Sirmans said. “Not only the work of the past, but the work of the future.”