The Miami Art Museum Sells its Name


With all eyes on Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach, the Miami Art Museum’s announcement yesterday of a major gift is, ironically, drawing less than positive attention, as it has led to the resignation of several board members.

The museum announced a gift of $35 million in cash and artworks from museum supporter and Miami real-estate magnate Jorge M. Pérez. Great news, in and of itself. Except that the gift, which will be paid over 10 years, came with some pretty big strings attached: the museum now bears the inelegant and cumbersome moniker of the Jorge M. Pérez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, or the Pérez Art Museum of Miami for short. (Guggenheim, Whitney, Frick et al. started their own museums, and even Alice Walton didn’t name hers for herself or her family, though “Crystal Bridges” certainly ranks among the dopier appellations.)

Board chair Aaron Podhurst told the Miami Herald that the 47-member board was largely in favor of the change, with only four opposing. In November, three board members resigned in protest of the name change. Earlier this week, former MAM president Mary Frank and her husband Howard, CEO of Carnival Corp took out a full-page ad in the Miami Herald opposing the renaming. According to the news report, Podhurst reached a compromise with Pérez in the last couple weeks to include the city in the name; Miami-Dade County is the largest funder of the project thanks to a $100-million bond approved by voters, and the city of Miami donated the land.

Pérez, who is chairman, CEO and founder of the Related Group, a real-estate development company that has built numerous high-rises and mixed-use complexes in the Miami area, has served on MAM’s capital campaign committee. In total, he has now given the museum $35 million: an initial contribution of $5 million for the capital campaign, plus the new gift of $15 million and $15 million worth of works from his Latin American art collection. MAM director Thom Collins and chief curator Tobias Ostrander will select pieces from the collection, which includes such artists as Wifredo Lam and Roberto Matta.

The new 120,000-square-foot facility, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is expected to open in 2013 in the waterfront Bicentennial Park. With Perez’s contribution, the campaign has achieved $167 million of its $220-million goal, or about 76 percent. Of the $220 million, $131 million is for construction, $69 million for the endowment and $20 million for transitional costs. (By comparison, at the time of its reopening in 2004, New York’s Museum of Modern Art had raised $725 million towards its $858 million goal, or roughly 85 percent. And a gift of $5 million or more got you listed on the Founders Wall in the lobby.)

Some commenters on the Miami Herald website have called the renaming “tacky and crass,” with one arguing that “it’s not a donation if you’re having the museum named after you.” In MAM’s defense, fundraising is a challenge in a city where private collectors like to showcase their holdings in their own facilities–the Rubell Collection, the Margulies Collection, Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, the de la Cruz Collection, Craig Robins–rather than make major donations to their municipal museum.