Right in the heart of the Art Deco district is the Wolfsonian Museum. It is an incredibly impressive structure. Originally, the building was utilized as a storehouse for the belongings of visitors who were leaving Miami in summer but returning the following winter. In 1986, the function of the building changed to become a museum. It’s mission was to “exhibit, document, and preserve the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection of Decorative and Propaganda Arts” (http://www.wolfsonian.org/about/museum-history). This mission continues to define the Wolfsonian. In 1997 the collection was donated to the Florida International University. These are just some fast facts to contextualize the museum.
First things first – the lobby and the elevator are very ornate. When you first enter the museum there is a stunning gold sculpture/mural on the back wall. This kind of decadence continues when you enter the lift that is mirrored on top with two stone lion head statues protruding from either side. The museum spreads over a few levels so you’ll get to see the lions a few times during your visit.
My favourite section outlined the history of Miami from Mangroves to Tourist Mecca. It’s pretty amazing to see photos of Miami back in the 1800s and compare them to what it looks like today. It is a very small display with one case in the middle and a chronological timeline on the back wall. The timeline is accompanied by photographs the most powerful being those of the aftermath of the 1926 hurricane. At the back of the exhibition is an iPad where you can geographically locate all the photographs on display on the map. You really get a sense of how rapidly Miami developed.
The other highlight of the Wolfsonian was the exhibition Art and Design in the Modern Age. It was almost like a cabinet of curiosities, however, there were more thematic panels and object labels. The main purpose of this exhibition is to showcase highlights in the collection. You see everything from vacuum cleaners to Suffragette posters.
Why this section particularly interested me was because there were objects from World Expositions. These included a deck of playing cards from the World’s Fair in St Louis USA and a beaded purse from the 1934 Chicago World Fair. The earliest object they had was from the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition (my personal favourite).
Overall the museum was a very interesting find in Miami. Some of the exhibitions were more narrative-based than others but I quite enjoyed seeing the curiosities in the collection.