The problem with staying at the luxurious St. Regis Bal Harbour in Miami Beach is it’s easy to forget there is a vibrant metropolis beyond the oceanfront resort, a hub of arts and culture just waiting to be discovered.
Who cares about all that artsy stuff when you can chill in a private beachfront cabana all day? One that’s air conditioned, has a bed, a bathroom, a TV and could pass as a studio apartment in New York. The famous St. Regis butler service is part of the deal. More fish tacos, please.
Why surrounded yourself with crazy abstract sculptures in some museum when you can surround yourself with clouds of lavender in Remède Spa?
Those staying in one of three new Signature Suites may be tempted to do nothing but sip cocktails on their vast balcony until they are lulled to sleep by the melodious waves of the Atlantic.
With so many ways to indulge oneself, why leave the hotel?
Perhaps the resort recognizes that its amenities are almost too enticing, because complimentary passes to top arts venues are provided at check-in: an invitation to go out the front door, a portal to the city’s thriving arts scene, instead of the back door, which leads to a glorious beach.
It’s all part of Unscripted Bal Harbour, an art-access program provided by Bal Harbour Village that offers free admission to eight museums, four celebrated private collections and a botanical garden.
Broaden your Horizons
Put down the mojito, pry yourself out of that beach chair and head to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) to kick off a tour of cultural enrichment.
Last year, this contemporary and modern art museum known for highlighting the works of Latin- American and Caribbean artists increased its permanent collection exponentially, thanks in large part to a donation from Miami real estate developer Jorges M. Pérez, the institution’s namesake.
Pérez donated more than 160 works by Cuban artists including paintings, sculptures and installations valued at $5million. “On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection” will highlight selected pieces. The exhibit will be on view June 16 - March 11, 2018.
Multiple images of the horizon reveal how each artist perceives that faraway point where the sky and earth, or the sky and sea, appear to meet. For some, the horizon symbolizes a barrier, especially in the framework of Cuba’s current political environment.
But that’s changing. The exhibition seems appropriate in an age where Cuba has started to open up to Americans after decades of travel restrictions. Miami’s large Cuban-American population seems optimistic about the future of the two countries that are geographically so close, yet ideologically, so far away. For them, hope is on the horizon.
The Wolfsonian – Florida International University, a museum in the heart of the Art Deco District, is devoted to showcasing design and decorative arts from the Industrial Revolution through post WWII.
Those familiar with the museum will be surprised at the dramatic transformation of the building’s façade, which is temporarily plastered with bold tapestry and batik-inspired patterns as part of “More is More: an Installation by Christie Van der Haak.” The Dutch contemporary artist continues the theme into the lobby with dynamic, interweaving patterns covering the floor and walls, reflecting a variety of Dutch styles.
Van der Haak’s work is exhibited in tandem with “Modern Dutch Design,” which examines innovative design in the Netherlands from 1890-1940. More than 200 works from the museum’s extensive collection, including decorative arts and furniture, highlight styles created by pioneering Dutch artists and designers.
Key works include a model of a mosque (c. 1893) that was an advertising display for a Dutch coffee and tea company and a chandelier with marine motifs designed by Michel de Klerk.
Both exhibits are on view through June 11.
The Wolfsonian is the meeting point for an Art Deco tour of South Beach, (not included on the complimentary Unscripted pass), so after perusing the museum, it’s easy to join a guided walking tour of this neighborhood celebrated for its sexy beach scene and sizzling nightlife.
Today, South Beach, or SoBe, as locals call it, has a cool retro vibe. Hundreds of hotels and other buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but in the 1920s and ‘30s, Art Deco architecture was the epitome of ultra-modern sophistication.
The architectural style arrived in South Beach via Lawrence Murray Dixon and Henry Hohauser, architects who designed many of the pastel-hued hotels featuring porthole windows and smokestack-like neon towers.
The Essex House Hotel, designed by Hohauser in 1938, looks as though it could release a noisy blast of steam and sail away into the Atlantic at any moment. A stunning mural of the Everglades painted by Earl Le Pan adorns the lobby.
Tour highlights include the 10-story Tides South Beach hotel, one of the tallest buildings in Florida when it was built in 1936, and the notorious Versace mansion where the Italian designer was murdered in 1997.
By the 1970s, the Art Deco grandes dames had been long-abandoned and city politicians were calling for them to be razed.
But that changed when an exciting crime drama, “Miami Vice,” debuted on NBC-TV in 1984, a time when the city was reeling from drug-related violent crime. Every week, swaggering undercover narc Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) brought down the bad guys, never wrinkling his trademark white suit.
Paradoxically, this fictional show that spotlighted the city’s very real problems helped clean up blighted South Beach. Producers painted buildings, filled dusty pools and brought in bikini-clad extras, recasting the area as an alluring tropical playground. Eventually, what was created by Hollywood magic became reality.
There was a time when not only South Beach but Miami as a whole was a cultural desert, but today it’s a flourishing city that takes great pride in its history, architecture and museums.
Now, aren’t you glad you tore yourself away from the hotel?
Where to Stay:
St. Regis Bal Harbour - 9703 Collins Ave. Bal Harbour, Miami Beach (305) 993-3300, st.regisbalharbour.com
Where to Eat:
Atlantikos at St. Regis Bal Harbour – (305) 993-3333, st.regisbalharbour.com/atlantikos
Pérez Art Museum of Miami – 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (305) 375-3000, pamm.org.
The Wolfsonian – 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach 305-531-1001, wolfsonian.org
Art Deco Tours – (305) 814-4058, artdecotours.com
For a complete listing of arts venues included in Unscripted Bal Harbour, visit balharbourflorida.com/miami-arts-culture/access-program/