See Miami 2019: The Wolfsonian by Ingrid Rocha

Student Biography

Hello, my name is Ingrid Rocha and I am a pre-med student at Florida International University. My majors are in both Biological Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies, and my minors are in Portuguese and Chemistry. I am pursuing these degrees in order to prepare for the difficult road to medical school. I am unsure of which area of study I will choose once I become a doctor, however I am interested in surgical specialties. Although I was born in Miami I moved away as a young child and did not get to grow up enjoying the many sights Miami has to offer. As a result, I decided to immerse myself in the culture by partaking in the Art Society Conflict class with the hope of broadening my horizons and becoming a more well-rounded individual.

Geography

Photography by Lynton Gardiner

The Wolfsonian is located right in the heart of South Beach’s Art Deco District at the corner of 10th Street and Washington Avenue. The Wolfsonian’s address is 1001 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139. There are city garages conveniently located between Washington and Pennsylvania Avenues on 12th Street, on Collins Avenue at 7th and 13th Streets, and on Drexel Avenue at 12th Street. There is also an open lot across the street on Washington Avenue on 10th Street next to the Washington Park Hotel, as well as metered street parking along the entirety of Washington Avenue. It should also be noted that parking is allowed in the nearby residential zones from 7am to 6pm on non-holiday weekdays.

As a result of The Wolfsonian’s many parking options the museum is easily accessible to both tourists and residents of South Florida alike. Before or after a day of strolling on South Beach people may be interested in visiting The Wolfsonian as it is a great destination for anyone interested in the arts or the history of Miami itself. Furthermore, it is hard to miss The Wolfsonian as it sits right on the corner of 10th street and Washington avenue. As a result, The Wolfsonian’s impressive architecture stands out from the typical South Beach buildings and does a splendid job of attracting curious visitors. Most prominently, however, is the fact that The Wolfsonian in located in Miami and that it holds a great deal of art pieces that play an important role in the recitation of Miami’s history.

History

Collection of Miami Beach Architecture
Martin L. Hampton, Henry Hohauser, Lawrence Murray Dixon, Robert Swartburg, Florida Each Coast Railway

The Wolfsonian, originally a Mediterranean revival building, was built in 1927 by Robertson and Patterson in order to hold the Washington Storage Company. The building was later enlarged and remodeled in 1992 into the museum that it is today by architect Mark Hampton. Fascinated by the role that architecture and design take on shaping the human experience Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr. established The Wolfsonian in 1986. Wolfson was an author, philanthropist, and former diplomat who had invested in a vast collection of objects in which The Wolfsonian, the Mediterranean revival building at the time, would serve to document and preserve within its walls. From about 1986 to 1993 staff members were primarily tasked with unpacking and cataloging the collection.

The Wolfsonian now houses an auditorium, The Dynamo Museum Shop and Café, administrative offices, a library, storage of small objects and paintings, and three exhibition galleries. All remaining objects are housed in a historic warehouse in Miami Beach known as the Annex. Wolfson founded The Wolfsonian with the intention of paying tribute to his international upbringing and varied taste for collecting artwork. It may be noted that Wolfson is also the founder of The Wolfsoniana, The Wolfsonian’s sister museum located in Genoa, Italy.

The Wolfsonian focuses it’s exhibitions on the monumental era of progressivism between the years 1850 and 1950. The Wolfsonian’s exhibitions depict the journey from early colonialism to urban living, in which important events such as the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Cold War, and the invention of technology is expressed in the form of rich artwork and a variety of objects. Furthermore, The Wolfsonian holds a rich collection of more than 200,000 pieces that contain objects such as household appliances, industrial era technology, and architectural plans that were all monumental in the formation of today’s society. The Wolfsonian’s core focus is on material originating from both Europe and the United States, however there are select pieces whose origin can be traced to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The Wolfsonian has been a proud part of Miami since 1995, however in 1997 it became a part of Florida International University following Wolfson’s donation of his collection and historic building to the state of Florida. The Wolfsonian is now known as one of the most enriching, monumental, and educational American university art collections. As a result, the Wolfsonian is able to profoundly impact the lives of thousands of students, educators, art and design lovers, and tourists each year.

Mission

The Wolfsonian’s mission statement is as follows:

Window Grille by William Harold Lee & Armand Carroll

“The Wolfsonian–FIU uses objects to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design, to explore what it means to be modern, and to tell the story of social, political, and technological changes that have transformed our world. It encourages people to see the world in new ways, and to learn from the past as they shape the present and influence the future.”

The Wolfsonian’s mission is essentially to inform visitors of their roots in a multidisciplinary manner. As the mission statement reads, in order to learn from the past, the past must first be understood. By understanding the past groundbreaking conclusions can be made about the present that allow for new opinions that can aid in society’s advancement. The exhibitions on social, political, and technological innovations give perspective of how far society progressed in order to reach the modern age we live in. In this way The Wolfsonian encourages the next generation by giving them the knowledge and tools that they may need to excel and make wise decisions as they rise into positions of power. The Wolfsonian promotes its mission statement through exhibitions, publications, educational programs, and individual scholarship opportunities.

Access

The Completed Buildings of Schultze and Weaver by Lloyd Morgan

The Wolfsonian promotes accessibility by making the fee for entering the museum on Friday’s from 6pm to 9pm free. Additionally, during the entirety of Miami Art Week 2019 admission to The Wolfsonian is free. Any student, staff, or faculty of the State University System of Florida, as well as members and children under 6 years old, enter free. There are free tours of The Wolfsonian every Friday at 6pm.

The Wolfsonian encourages all members of the Florida International University community to utilize its resources and promotes the use of its collection for research projects. Additionally, The Wolfsonian provides internship opportunities and collaboration on exhibitions, publications, and programs. To FIU faculty The Wolfsonian extends an offer to provide teaching support and encourage any opportunity for faculty research.

Those part of the members program at The Wolfsonian receive a year of unlimited free admission, invitations to VIP preview parties, invitations to members-only tours and special events, a 10% discount at The Wolfsonian Design Store and Coffee Bar, five complimentary guest passes, access to the SEMC reciprocal membership program, and priority access to public programming. There are eight membership levels ranging from $50 to $5,000. The levels are Popular ($50), Dual/Family ($75), Propagandist ($125), Diplomat ($250), Ally ($500), Patriot ($1,000), Futurist ($2,500), and Loyalist ($5,000).

Also offered by The Wolfsonian is the opportunity to become a Corporate Ally. All Corporate Allies receive a year of a 10% discount at The Wolfsonian Design Store and Coffee Bar, advanced notification of a range of public programs and private events, a $50 employee rate for Dual/Family memberships, corporate name recognition on public signage in lobby and in triannual newsletter, a private guided tour of The Wolfsonian, and five copies of The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. There are three Corporate Ally levels ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. The levels are Comrade ($5,000), Attaché ($15,000), and Protagonist ($25,000).

The Wolfsonian’s Regular Hours of Operation and Admission
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday | 10am–6pm
Wednesday | closed
Friday | 10am–9pm (free 6–9pm)
Sunday | noon–6pm
 
The library’s reading room is open by appointment only:
Monday–Friday | 9am–5pm
Saturday | 11am–5:30pm
 
Members: FREE
Adults: $12
Seniors, students with ID, and children 6–18: $8
Children under 6: FREE
Students, faculty, and staff of the State University System of Florida: FREE

Collection

Deco: Luxury to Mass Market

This ongoing collection is focused on “Art Deco.” Art Deco is known as the styles that emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s from the pursuit of merging the worlds of art and industry into a singular entity of modernized design. Art Deco is not limited to artwork, the collection at The Wolfsonian encompasses a variety of art from handcrafted objects to common household appliances.

The Wolfsonian puts on display a visual of the migration of Art Deco from Europe to the United States, as well as its evolution along the way. The Wolfsonian’s aspirations for its Deco collection exemplify the process over time of American designers combining style of European luxury with the demand for an industrial level of production.

The poster pictured above is by designer Weimer Pursell and Neely Printing Co. called “Chicago World’s Fair. A century of Progress.” This poster perfectly exemplifies the Art Deco ideals of combining luxury and industry through the illustration of luxurious, yet practical, architecture. The 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago greatly impacted Florida. The Florida Tropical House was central in pioneering a sleek modernist design that dramatically clashed against the traditional Mediterranean revival architecture that was so popular.

A Universe of Things: Micky Wolfson Collects

For over three decades Miami Beach has been bearer to a massive collection of stained-glass windows, paintings, books, prints, vases, and furniture. This collection belongs to non-other than Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., who sends his growing collection back to Miami from his travels in order to be compiled, researched, preserved, studied, and either exhibited or published. The collection A Universe of Things: Micky Wolfson Collects studies the life of Wolfson through the articles and objects he collects, a force that encompasses a variety of time periods and cultures.

Art and Design in the Modern Age: Selections from the Wolfsonian Collection
Graf Zeppelin by Hugo Eckener

The Wolfsonian has a large variety of artifacts that range from the years 1850 to 1950 which is all compiled into one collective overview in the Art and Design in the Modern Age collection. The exhibition was inaugurated in November 1995 and is periodically updated with art in a multitude of formats including books, posters, postcards, decorative art, architectural models, paintings, and sculptures. This collection focuses specifically on design-reform movements, urbanism, industrial design, transportation, world’s fairs, advertising, and political propaganda. Notably, this collection studies over time how art and design influence the modern world.

The model pictured above is based on the original Graf Zeppelin designed by Hugo Eckener in Germany. This model thoroughly depicts what the Art and Design in the Modern Age collection strove to exemplify through its exhibition in which the zeppelin depicts both industrialization and transportation in one. Attempts at flight were made in the 1890’s, however the dream of motorized flight was not realized until the beginning of the new century.

(LO & BEHOLD) (MIRA & VE): An installation by Lawrence Weiner

This ongoing installation is part of a larger installation for Art Basel Miami Beach 2006 by Lawrence Weiner, however Mira & Ve has become a permanent part of The Wolfsonian’s central lobby fountain. Much of Weiner’s artwork uses language and symbols in order to convey his exploration of the interaction between elements such as shape, color, and punctuation. Weiner’s prosperous career originates in the early 1960s when he became a founding member of the Conceptual Art movement. He enjoys challenging traditional notions, as well as taking on difficult concepts such as the complexity of simplicity. Weiner expertly recognized Miami’s rich and diverse culture and combined both English and Spanish in his artwork to illicit a profound effect from onlookers.

Exhibitions

Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer
(June 7, 2019-March 1, 2020)
Self-Portrait by Conrado Walter Massaguer

The visualization of Cuban culture in the 1920’s and 1950’s was made possible by graphic artist Conrado Walter Massaguer’s through his cutting-edge political satire, published illustrations, and various famous caricatures. The dazzling installation Cuban Caricature and Culture was a gift from Vicki Gold Levi to the Wolfsonian Library. The installation is able to portray Massaguer’s monumental expertise through the depiction of dozens of pieces, such as the work he did for his magazine Social as well as graphics that envision tropical paradises for the Cuban Tourist Commission. Massaguer’s reach of influence extended far beyond Cuba, as shown through cartoons of visiting personalities including Walt Disney, the King of Spain, and Albert Einstein. Most notable, however, is Massaguer’s work for the magazines Collier’s and Life for which he designed the covers.

Caricaturas
(August 29, 2019-January 26, 2020)

In conjunction with Cuban Caricature and Culture the exhibition Caricaturas highlights the works of many of Conrado Walter Massaguer’s colleagues from Mexico and Cuba, two locations in which, during the 20th century, caricature was vital for its contribution to political analysis. On display are caricatures of notorious figures throughout history such as Charlie Chaplin, Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, and Adolf Hitler. Additionally, there is a collection of portraits and self-portraits of famous caricaturists such as Conrado Walter Massaguer, Miguel Covarrubias, and Xavier Cugat.

Pictured above is a self-portrait of Massaguer on a carousel. Depicted behind him are an angel and a demon, also riding the carousel. This is a single piece of artwork out of many in a collection of self-portraits done by Massaguer. He is very well-known for caricatures drawn of celebrities, as well as his successful magazines, however his self-portraits aren’t as prominent. What’s interesting about this piece of artwork is that as the carousel winds around in circles the angel and devil will always be behind Massaguer, following him and helping him make both good and bad decisions.

Special Programs

The Wolfsonian has prided itself for its work in conjunction with teachers and students for over twenty years. These programs are created with the intention of encouraging the next generation to become involved with and excited about art. Some programs that have been organized in the past are Teen Thoughts on Democracy, Page at a Time, Shenandoah Middle Museums Magnet Program, Artful Citizenship, and Artful Truth. The active program at the moment is a free public high school outreach program in partnership with Miami-Dade County called Zines for Progress (Z4P). Zines for Progress’s main goal is to open up a platform for students to address big ideas in a free, encouraging, and safe environment. The students are encouraged to be provocative in their ideas and opinions which allows for the fortification of critical thinking, research, and visual learning skills. Additional events are announced each month, however common events include Free Friday Guided Tours, Miami Beach Culture Crawl, Second Shift, and Sketching in the Galleries.

Visitor

Sophia Gandarillas | Student at Florida International University

Have you visited The Wolfsonian prior? What is your reason for visiting?

  • I have never been to this museum before, I didn’t even know it existed until about a week ago. I’m visiting because I enjoy art and wanted to see what this museum had to offer. I am also a student at Florida International University, so I was interested in learning about what FIU as an institution had collected and chosen to exhibit. I was interested in what opportunities The Wolfsonian had to offer specifically to students as a result of being a part of the FIU community.

What was your favorite exhibit or collection? Why?

  • Cuban Caricature and Culture was my favorite exhibit at the museum. I come from a family of Cuban immigrants, so it was interesting to see some of the caricatures and cultural references from the time before the takeover of Fidel Castro. 

What did you enjoy the most about visiting The Wolfsonian?

  • The museum offered an inside look to life in the past that is not usually seen. It transported me to American life back in the 20th century. It was interesting to see some of the things that my grandparents and parents grew up around and interesting to see how time has brought evolution and change to technology and cultural interests.

Would you consider visiting The Wolfsonian again? Why or Why Not?

  • Honestly, I would not visit again. As much as it was interesting to see elements of the past, I found this museum to be quite creepy and dark. It gave me an almost haunted feeling and made me feel really uncomfortable. I also did not like the collection as a whole as I feel it was not very good in my opinion. The collection as a whole was not my favorite because it was not a strong representation of its values and mission. It seemed to me that it was a half-hearted attempt at completing their mission. A lot of the objects they had in their museum were not pieces of outstanding merit and where almost disappointing in their presence. I was also let down by the fact that on the day of my visit, one of the floors was closed for the installation of a new exhibit. While walking on the floors above I was able to look down at the closed floor and some of the things I saw were vaguely interesting. It was disappointing that I did not get to see the full exhibition but the unsettling feeling that the museum gave me made me want to leave as soon as possible.

What do you feel is the impact art institutions, such as museums, have on society?

  • Society is influenced greatly by not only art institutions but also by art and creativity itself. It is an important facet to life as it allows freedom to express oneself in a world that often criticizes such expression.

Portrait

Dr. Francis Xavier Luca |
Chief Librarian at The Wolfsonian &
Adjunct Professor at FIU

Contact:
Office: The Wolfsonian–FIU, MB01 324A;
Modesto A. Maidique Campus, DM 371A
Email: lucaf@fiu.edu
Telephone: 305.535.2641

What is your name?

  • Dr. Francis Luca

What is your job title?

  • I am the chief librarian and an adjunct professor of history at Florida International University.

If you feel comfortable answering, how long have you worked for the Wolfsonian? 

  • I have worked at the Wolfsonian for about twenty-seven years starting in 1991.

What was your inspiration to work at the Wolfsonian?

  • I was fascinated by their unique approach to dealing with art. The Wolfsonian is not focused on big name artists, but more about using the objects on display to shed light and tell stories about the past. There is also a lot of propaganda art that helps people sort of see that this is not just art for art’s sake, but it is art in the service of ideas.

What does it mean to be chief librarian at the Wolfsonian? 

  • Being chief librarian means that I am in charge of doing a lot of administrative work. This includes maintaining the budget, dealing with potential donors, and cultivating donors. I am also on the collections acquisition committee in which we vote on what is appropriate for The Wolfsonian’s collection. We also determine where funds should be dispersed. Additionally, I curate library and main exhibitions as well as smaller exhibitions. We wear a lot of hats here at The Wolfsonian which is why I am in charge of so many aspects of the museum. For example, I also catalogue a lot of the books that are coming in.

What do you enjoy the most about working at the Wolfsonian?

  • I would say that some of the more creative things are my favorite. For example, I really enjoy when school groups from both Miami-Dade high schools as well as college students visit. Essentially the educational aspects of The Wolfsonian are the parts in which I most enjoy.

Do you feel that the Wolfsonian is easily accessible to the public? Why or why not?

  • I do, we have been digitizing much of the collection which has made it very accessible virtually. The only aspect that complicates accessibility is the hectic Miami traffic that also makes it hard to find parking, however this is a problem throughout Miami, especially by the beaches.

Do you have a favorite exhibit, piece of artwork, or collection at the Wolfsonian? 

  • The Wolfsonian’s collection is so diverse that it is hard to pick favorites, it would be difficult to focus on only one artist. If I truly had to, I suppose the work of the artist Lynd Ward would be among my top choices. I’m interested in his work because he is actually attributed with the introduction of graphic novels to the united states. They were first popular in Germany but in early 1929 Ward brought graphic novels to fruition in the United States.

Summary

Sintesi Fascista by Alessandro Bruschetti

The Wolfsonian does a fantastic job of conveying its mission statement through the selection of collections and exhibitions that are in place. As visitors walk through the museum, ascending the various levels, a story of progress is truly communicated. With collections such as Deco to Art and Design in the Modern Age there is no question just how influential art is on society’s progress. The Wolfsonian concerns itself with molding the younger generation into well-rounded individuals fit to someday take the reins in leadership. Their mission statement speaks of influencing the future, a feat they are accomplishing through educational programs that are accessible to thousands of high school students in Miami-Dade County as well as Florida International University students. Not only are events organized for the young adults, but monthly events are also available which encourages everyone, no matter your age, to get involved with the museum. These programs help make The Wolfsonian an accessible institution no matter your age, race, or socioeconomic status.

There are a few factors that infringe on The Wolfsonian’s accessibility. Although The Wolfsonian bears no fault for the horrid Miami traffic, it does make it difficult to visit the museum. There are plenty of parking options, however, many find them to be very inconvenient. The Wolfsonian would benefit from putting into place a system to facilitate parking, which I’m sure would encourage more people to visit the museum. Additionally, the museum does an amazing job organizing events for young adults, such as college students and high schoolers, however more events for younger children should be implemented. Unfortunately, as of late society has placed a greater emphasis on the science and math fields as opposed to art. If children are stimulated by art at a young age their interest in the subject matter will greatly improve, fashioning them into more informed individuals. Education is one of The Wolfsonian’s core ideals and both the museum and its enthusiasts would benefit from a greater selection of programs for art-lovers of all ages.

References

https://wolfsonian.org
http://www.museumsusa.org/museums/info/379
https://wolfsonianfiulibrary.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/the-artwork-and-caricatures-of-conrado-walter-massaguer/
http://zines.wolfsonian.org/
https://cri.fiu.edu/faculty/francis-xavier-luca/
*Additional information was obtained from The Wolfsonian’s official brochures and pamphlets.

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