Five Museums Not to Miss in Florida

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On our latest trip to Florida, we stuck to smaller, quieter enclaves, beginning in Amelia Island and ending in Sarasota. Along the way, we took in these five museums. Many of them are housed in architecturally distinguished buildings, and all of them have rich collections of art that are very much worth discovering.

The Bass

View of the Bass and Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain from Collins Park in Miami
View of the Bass and Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain from Collins Park in Miami - Photography by Zachary Balber. Courtesy of the Bass, Miami Beach

Following major renovations in 2017 by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki and David Gauld, the Bass in Collins Park in Miami Beach has become one of the most cutting-edge museums in the South. Opened in 1964, the museum’s original collection was a gift from Johanna and John Bass, an Austrian-born sugar tycoon, and included 15th- to 17th-century Old Master paintings, sculpture and textiles, including many Flemish tapestries. The vivid 42-foot-tall outdoor sculpture by Ugo Rondinone called Miami Mountain signals that it has added contemporary art to its mission. Indeed, since the launch of the annual Art Basel Miami Beach show for collectors in 2002, the museum has won a reputation for sharply curated exhibits by up-and-coming and established contemporary artists. It has also substantially expanded its contemporary art collections to include works by Allora & Calzadilla, Dara Birnbaum, Abraham Cruzvillegas, John Giorno and James Turrell. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

The Bass
2100 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. Tel. (305) 673-7530

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

The Laurelton Hall reception hall at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park
The Laurelton Hall reception hall at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park - Courtesy of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, FL.

This delightful museum was founded by Jeannette Genius McKean in 1942 and named for her grandfather, a Chicago industrialist who was one of Winter Park’s earliest inhabitants. McKean’s goal was to showcase American art, and in 1955, she curated the country’s first museum exhibit devoted entirely to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. McKean went on to amass the world’s largest collection of works by Tiffany, who is best known for his stained glass. Tiffany, whose father founded the legendary New York City jeweler, was also a painter, decorator, architect, photographer and landscape architect, and in addition to his stained glass, he designed ceramics, furniture, enamels, jewelry and mosaics. A wide variety of Tiffany’s work is displayed, but the showstoppers are the beautiful mosaic-and-glass chapel interior he created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the Daffodil Terrace, with its daffodil ceramic capitals in the loggia, which was recovered from Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall estate on Long Island after it was destroyed by a fire. Closed Monday.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
445 North Park Avenue, Winter Park. Tel. (407) 645-5311

Orlando Museum of Art

Orlando Museum of Art
Orlando Museum of Art - Jason Fronczek

Founded in 1924, this art museum in a quiet residential neighborhood of Orlando offers a great antidote to anyone suffering from amusement park fatigue, and it is also a destination museum in its own right. The OMART, as it’s locally known, displays a diverse collection that includes African art and art of the ancient Americas, including some 900 objects made by the Mayans, Colima, Moche, Mezcala and Diquis peoples; there’s also a substantial collection of Aztec and Incan art. The OMART is also well-known for its collection of contemporary art from 1945 onward, with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Philip Pearlstein and John Chamberlain, among others. Until January 12, 2020, there’s a special exhibit of the work of 20th-century artist Edward Steichen and another one by the Belgian painter Louis Dewis. He lived and worked in France from 1916 to 1946 and was considered one of that country’s most accomplished landscape painters. Closed Monday.

Orlando Museum of Art
2416 North Mills Avenue, Orlando. Tel. (407)896-4231

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Pérez Art Museum Miami

The Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami
The Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami - Photo courtesy of Pérez Art Museum Miami

Located in a dramatic modern building by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron with a waterfront site in downtown Miami, this relatively young museum, which was formerly known as the Miami Art Museum, changed its name in recognition of Jorge M. Pérez, a generous donor to the museum. The museum moved into its new building in 2013 and broadened its original mission to display the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Likewise, it expanded its collection to include works by artists such as Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella and Ana Mendieta and art from the African diaspora, Latin America and the Caribbean as a reflection of Miami’s population and ties to those regions. As Miami has evolved into an important center for the arts, the museum has assumed a major role in the city’s cultural life with a regularly changing series of innovative exhibits. Closed Wednesday.

Pérez Art Museum Miami
1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. Tel. (305) 375-3000

The Ringling Museum of Art

The Rubens gallery at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota
The Rubens gallery at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota - The Ringling Museum of Art

In 1925, circus magnate John Ringling decided to build a Spanish Colonial museum near his winter home on Sarasota Bay to display his vast art collection. Now owned and run by the state of Florida, it’s become one of the best small museums in the United States. Highlights of the collection include the Rubens gallery, with works by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640); the Spanish gallery, with a portrait of Philip the IV, King of Spain, by Velázquez; and the Astor galleries, a set of elegant rooms that were recovered from the New York City residence of the Astor family on Fifth Avenue when it was demolished. The museum complex also includes the Circus Museum, with a collection of circus props, graphics, photographs and other items that remind visitors of the fact that John Ringling made Sarasota the winter quarters of his famous circus. Ca’ d’Zan, Ringling’s 57-room Venetian-style mansion on the bay, is also open to the public, and it’s a fascinating time capsule of life during the Roaring ’20s, when the Ringlings would send their yacht to collect guests like Will Rogers and New York City mayor Jimmy Walker from the train station in Tampa.

The Ringling Museum of Art
5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Tel. (941) 359-5700

Read more about our editors' trips to Florida

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