The Wolfsonian is a modern art museum unlike any other that 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 where Wolfson began storing his collection in the 1970s. Wolfson later purchased the Mediterranean Revival style building, renovated it to meet his needs and then bequeathed the building and his entire collection to Florida International University in 1997. It 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.
Wolfson Jr., prominent collector and architectural and modern design expert
began collecting modern artistic items in the 1970s and soon required additional
space to store them all as his collection grew.
He then 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. That being the case, Wolfson simply purchased
the building that same year and established the Wolfsonian Foundation to
oversee his collection and make it available for research. The staff then spent several years
registering, cataloguing, conserving and researching Wolfson’s extensive
later hired Mark Hampton and Architect William Kearns to renovate, convert and
expand the building into a world class museum and research facility in
1992. The building’s first floor was of
an extended height to accommodate vehicles driving within to unload items into
Miami Beach’s first freight elevator. It
now houses the Wolfsonian’s auditorium, café, main lobby and gift shop. Hampton and Kearns also added the smaller 6th
and 7th floors to the building which are now home to the museum’s
temporary exhibitions. The 5th
floor contains the museum’s permanent exhibition, entitled Art and Design in the Modern Age.
The building’s 3rd floor houses the Wolfsonian’s non-circulating
research library that contains over 60,000 items to include rare books,
historic periodicals and various works of propaganda.
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. Most of these 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 U.S., Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands are most represented
at the Wolfsonian.
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 would include Americans All: Race Relations in
Depression-Era Murals, Modern Dutch Design, and Material and Meaning: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain. The Wolfsonian also offers numerous
public, family and school educational programs and fellowships. Sections are also available for rental for
special events and occasions.