Who says Miami is devoid of culture? Sure, Miami nightlife and Miami beaches are partly the reason why we attract tourists from around the world, but there’s a lot to be said about the best museums in Miami. The city is home to a number of nationally recognized institutions in which you’ll find pieces by renowned Latin American artists, pre-Columbian artifacts and photographs of some of the biggest names in pop culture from their time spent in Miami—Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and others. Not sure where to start? Dive in to art in Miami with our guide to the best museums in Miami.
Best museums in Miami
Better known as the PAMM, this contemporary art museum is much more than a place to browse paintings. Aficionados love the Herzog & de Meuron-designed space for its extensive variety of Latin American works (collector and Miami developer Jorge Pérez donated a portion of his personal collection valued at an estimated $20 million), sculptural installations by international artists and slew of visiting exhibits, such as a recent survey of Cuban painter Amelia Peláez. While non-artsy types favor the PAMM for its cultural programming—from happy hours to monthly evening dance parties—views of Biscayne Bay and new American restaurant, Verde.
Decidedly cooler and more low key than the museums clustered in downtown Miami, the MOCA is where you’ll find big Art Basel debuts, such as Tracey Emin’s popular neon installation “Angel Without You,” and avant garde exhibitions from international artists. Jazz at the MOCA brings out the locals on the last Friday of each month for an outdoor concert and donation-based entrance to the museum. Community programming, however, takes on a more didactic approach, with a focus on art education that includes artist-led lectures and classes taught by local photographers and painters.
Interested in seeing what a real Cuban refugee raft looks like? Want to see the actual Miramar Playa hotel sign used during the filming of Magic City in Miami? Both, and more, are on display at HistoryMiami, a microcosm of the city’s past and present. Anytime a famous person makes history in Miami, it’s documented here—including the time The Beatles performed sold-out shows in Miami Beach or the numerous times Frank Sinatra filmed movies and television shows at the Fontainebleau Hotel (“Sinatra: An American Icon” is on display through June 2016). All exhibits here are fun and interactive so kids of all ages will enjoy learning about a time they may or may not remember.
Though flanked by nightclubs and late-night eateries, the Wolfsonian-FIU manages to attract serious thinkers and art lovers. Its exhibits are progressive without leaning toward the radical or esoteric, providing insight into trending topics like the relationship between the United States and Cuba. While its permanent collections, comprising paintings, graphic designs and a myriad of objects, offer a more general view of the modern world. On Fridays, the museum is free to the public between the hours of 6 to 9pm—which makes for one of South Beach’s most popular happy hours.
Formed following a generous donation by eponymous collectors John and Johanna Bass, the Bass Museum of Art has been a beacon of contemporary works for the City of Miami Beach since it was founded in 1963. From an actual Egyptian sarcophagus to more of-the-moment exhibits centered on fashion—including the recent “Art & Sole: Fantasy Shoes” from the Jane Gershon Weitzman Collection—the Bass reflects the city’s (and its founders’) broad range of interests. The museum’s main Art Deco building (the site of former Miami Beach Library and Art Center) is under construction through the end of 2016, during which bassX, a satellite space in the Miami Beach Regional Library, remains open.
With an undergraduate dormitory to one side and the campus’ swanky business school to the other, the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum doesn’t seem like a place where you’d find a notable collection of Native American art, Egyptian antiquities and all sorts of paintings from renowned European artists, such as Claude Monet. But as the first art museum in Miami (opened in 1950) the Lowe has paved way the way for a number of newcomers and introduced the city to international artists thanks to a number of traveling exhibitions it welcomes annually.
The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum’s location on the FIU campus makes this formidable art institution both a place for scholarly research and an educational facility for those looking to broaden their understanding of the art world. But even those new to art will find something worthwhile at the nearly 40-year-old museum (the only Smithsonian-affiliated art museum in Miami), whose permanent collections include African artifacts, pre-Columbian art and a substantial collection of American prints from the 1960s—part of the overall Metropolitan Museum and Art Center’s collection donated to the Frost upon shuttering in 1989.
A visit to the Coral Gables Museum is one always cloaked in nostalgia. Stroll through the historic building, the former site of the city’s old fire and police stations, to learn all about Coral Gables’ history with an in-depth look at George Merrick’s vision for the city he founded. Or take a look at the evolution of downtown Coral Gables and its main shopping thoroughfare, Miracle Mile. Weeknight and weekends bring about more family friendly happenings like fitness events in the courtyard as well as walking tours in association with local organizations.
Don and Mera Rubell lay claim to one of the world’s largest, privately owned contemporary collections in the world—which is housed in a former Drug Enforcement Administration storage facility for goods seized from dealers in the ‘70s and ‘80s. An unlikely location for a formidable collection that sort of grew from equally unusual circumstances: After years of modest accumulation, the Rubells’ inheritance from Don's brother, Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell, helped them grow their collection, which now includes pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, among many others.
The Miami Design District is brimming with more than luxury shops, namely modern art like the kind you’ll find at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Housed in the landmark Moore Building (where most of the neighborhood’s cool parties take place) this pared-down museum showcases works by emerging artists and hosts collaborative exhibitions in partnership with local galleries. ICA Speaks, free artist lectures aimed at highlighting the permanent collections, happen regularly in nearby Palm Court.