With Knight funding, the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is acquiring the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. Here, museum Director Franklin Sirmans writes about the collection’s importance.
Shortly after I accepted my position at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), I was brought up to speed on an exciting development, one of many but by far the most exciting. PAMM was in negotiation with Knight Foundation on a potential “game changer” acquisition. I’m not using those words lightly and I parenthesize because those are the words that played in my own mind, not necessarily the words of someone trying to sell me on the idea. No, it was a game-changer for a crucial reason. It wasn’t the quantity, though that is huge. And, it wasn’t the quality, though that is remarkable. It was the fact that the breadth of the acquisition from Ruth and Marvin Sackner was an in-depth look at a chronological range of the last 100 years – our bread and butter, so to speak. And, I do not say our “bread and butter” lightly.
We are a museum of international contemporary art with a commitment to reflecting our position as the southernmost major metropolitan city in the 48 contiguous states in the so-called United States. That is to say we need “to represent,” who we are and where we are: Miami. That definition, as in any major city, is constantly in flux. But there are lots of lines of distinction that can be mined. Our histories, geographies and cultures suggest we should reflect a strong connection to Latin America and the Caribbean. Like New Orleans, we are in that orbit, and are one of two American cities that one could get lost in and not realize one was in “’Merica.” Ideologically, we aim to reflect these realms from the point of view of the now, the contemporary. We, like so many of our colleagues, are in the constant search – or on the hamster wheel to remain in contemporaneity.
In terms of the museum’s recent exhibition history, our unique character can be seen in exhibitions on Amelia Peláez and presentations of works by artists such as Pedro Figari, Joaquín Torres-Garcia and Alejandro Xul Solar, all born in the 19###sup/sup### century. Their mature works occur primarily in the 1920s and 1930s, which is the same point of departure for the works in the Sackner Collection. The presentation of more recent works of art at PAMM by Beatriz Milhazes, Nari Ward, Doris Salcedo, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Firelei Báez, Beatriz Santiago Munoz and others offer a bridge to the now.
As Thom Collins, my predecessor, noted in the foreword to A Human Document: Selections from the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, “The Sackner’s collection features important examples from every major historical movement to emerge in the modern West, from Symbolism to Situationism and beyond.” Thus while we may show artists in a continuum over the last 100 years that will have a resonance from our location, we also are in a unique position to find new meanings in the work of the past that are relevant to the present and the future. The only way to do that, is to have a collection that can reflect that past, that can represent different moments in the last part of the last century. And, that is what makes this acquisition so remarkable.
No matter how international we are and how attuned to our vernacular culture—vibrant in a city like Miami—we are looking at art in the continuum of the Western canon and history of museums. It’s a short history when taken into account of the time in which humanity has created art but nonetheless that is our framework. Simply put, the Sackner collection gift is a through line in the entire history of art that is relevant to our project. Here at PAMM, we think of the modernist crossroads of cubism and surrealism through the work of Wifredo Lam, who synthesized European and African art in his uniquely Caribbean and Latin American art. We look to Carmen Herrera for her take on geometric abstraction as our starting point. There is no way to discuss the body in contemporary art and the influence of conceptualism without the work of Ana Mendieta. And, Doris Salcedo’s minimalist repetition is a more acute version of that art historical tendency for us. Likewise, our modernism is boring without the work of John Dunkley. But all of this is moot without great art, and great art and artists are at the heart of this acquisition.
Collected since 1979, the Sackner collection gift to PAMM includes more than 400 works of art by artists from all over the world, among them Kazimir Malevich (Ukraine/Russia), Alfred Stieglitz (U.S.), Guillaume Apollinaire (Italy/France), Marcel Broodthaers (Belgium), Willem Boshoff (South Africa), Ian Hamilton Finlay (Scotland), Wallace Berman (U.S.), Leon Ferrari (Argentina), Dieter Roth (Germany/Switzerland), John Giorno (U.S.) and Shirin Neshat (Iran) to name some. Expressionism, cubism, surrealism, fauvism, dada, realism, abstraction, it’s all there! But first and foremost this gift makes abundantly clear that if you have any interest in “the art of typewriting,” concrete and visual poetry, you must come to Miami to see it. And, that is the definition of a game-changer.
Thank you, Marvin, and Ruth.
Franklin Sirmans is the director of Pérez Art Museum Miami.