The Wolfsonian — FIU
The Wolfsonian is a modern art museum unlike any other and is also a department within Florida International University. It was founded by Miami native Mitchell Wolfson Jr. in 1986, and opened to the public in 1995. It is located in the renovated and expanded former Washington Storage Company building. Wolfson began storing his collection there in the 1970s, before Wolfson later purchasing the Mediterranean Revival style building. Wolfson renovated the structure to meet his needs and then bequeathed the building and his entire collection to Florida International University in 1997. The building is now the primary home to the Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Collection of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. The Wolfsonian is part of the larger Miami Beach Architectural District, often referred to as the Art Deco District.
Backstory and Context
Mitchell “Mickey” Wolfson Jr., prominent collector and architectural and modern design expert began collecting modern art objects in the 1970s. He soon required additional space to store his collection. Wolfson selected the 1927 Washington Storage Company building to serve his storage needs. By 1986 his collection occupied 90% of the storage space within the building, so Wolfson simply purchased the structure. He then established the Wolfsonian Foundation to oversee his collection and make it available for research. The staff spent several years registering, cataloguing, conserving and researching Wolfson’s extensive collection.
In 1992, Wolfson hired Mark Hampton and Architect William Kearns to renovate, convert and expand the building into a world class museum and research facility. The height of the building’s first floor was extended to accommodate vehicles driving within to unload items into Miami Beach’s first freight elevator. The structure now houses the Wolfsonian’s auditorium, café, main lobby and gift shop. Hampton and Kearns also added the smaller sixth and seventh floors to the building which are now home to the Museum’s temporary exhibitions. The fifth floor contains the Museum’s permanent exhibition, entitled Art and Design in the Modern Age. The building’s third floor houses the Wolfsonian’s non-circulating research library that contains over 60,000 items, such as rare books, historic periodicals and various works of propaganda.
Today, the Wolfsonian divides its over 180,000 items into two groups: the library and objects collections. Both collections focus on works of modern art from 1850-1950. The objects collection contains furniture, works in glass, ceramics, metal, textiles, industrial-design objects, works on paper, and ephemera. Works are derived primarily from American industrial design and Art Deco, Dutch and Italian Art Nouveau, propaganda from both World Wars as well as the Spanish Civil War, and New Deal decorative and graphic arts. Objects from the United States, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands are most represented at the Wolfsonian.
Thematically, the Wolfsonian’s collections are divided into such categories as Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Modernism, and World’s Fairs and Expositions among others. A sample of recent exhibitions includes Art for Justice, Color and Form: American Depression Glass, and The New Deal: Art Relief. The Wolfsonian also offers numerous public, family and school educational programs and fellowships.
Damon-Moore, Laura. "Miami's Modern Design Library: The Wolfsonian." Designers & Books. October 29, 2013. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.designersandbooks.com/blog/miami-s-modern-design-library-wolfsonian
"Museum History." Wolfsonian. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.wolfsonian.org/about/museum-history
Nebhrajani, Roshan. "A 'serious museum' in a tourist playground." The New Tropic. February 8, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2017. https://thenewtropic.com/wolfsonian/
Rifkind, David. "The Wolfsonian -- FIU." Community Newspapers. September 6, 2013. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://communitynewspapers.com/miami-beach/the-wolfsonian-fiu/