Over the past 18 years, Bonnie Clearwater has helped transform the South Florida art scene and put North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) on the global art map as its director and chief curator. But even after accomplishing that masterstroke, she’s drawn up plans to raise another museum’s profile on the international landscape. In September, Clearwater decided to join Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art (MOA) in Fort Lauderdale as its new director and chief curator. Forbes Travel Guide caught up with Clearwater after the announcement to get her take on the transition, Miami’s art scene and the upcoming Art Basel festival.
When did you first become interested in the art world?
I’ve been involved in it since I was a child, going to museums, taking art classes, collecting art books. All of these things were what got me interested in art from a young age.
I came here in 1990 with the hopes of helping to make the art scene grow and bring all of the elements of the art world together here. It was quite clear at the time that the Miami art scene was beginning to emerge. Since then, the art scene here has grown enormously, and when Art Basel premiered in 2002, it put an international stamp on Miami.
I’m drawn to museums that have a specialty. I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and The Morgan Library and Museum. The Morgan has done a great job making something that can be esoteric into something very vibrant. Houston’s The Menil Collection has a unique collection [of antiquities and modern, contemporary art]. Denmark’s The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art also is also a focused, unique museum. London’s The Wallace Collection is really a gem of 18th-century and 19th-century European art.
What is your vision now for the NSU Museum of Art?
I’ve known the MOA since it opened in the space designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. It’s located right in the heart of the cultural district. It houses 83,000 square feet, containing 29,000 square feet of exhibition space, and is also home to a permanent collection of more than 6,000 works and the AutoNation Academy of Art and Design, as well as the Horvitz Auditorium. Its unique collection will define the museum in its own right. It’s solid and surprising with exciting programming. As a part of Nova Southeastern University, the museum is becoming fully integrated for students and the community — its exhibitions, programs, performances and events, education. We really do see that the MOA will take its place as the nexus for the entire South Florida art community.
With Art Basel coming up December 5 through 8, what exhibitions you are most looking forward to seeing?
The last exhibition I organized for the Museum of Contemporary Art is the first solo museum exhibition for the British artist Tracey Emin — “Angel Without You” — that will be premiering at the MOCA in December during Art Basel. At the MOA, we’ll also have many major exhibitions coinciding with the event.
Tell us more about the MOA’s exhibitions during Art Basel.
We will have a wonderful exhibition of the avant-garde, post-WWII European movement CoBra, which emerged with artists that were responding to the horrors of the war and Holocaust. This movement was very important, and the MOA has the largest collection of CoBra art in the country. We are co-organizing the exhibition with the CoBra Museum in The Netherlands. We also have a major exhibition of design, “Against the Grain.” It includes artists, designers and craft workers all working in innovative ways with wood. This also coincides with the other major art fair occurring in Miami during Art Basel, Design Miami. The [MOA] is only about 10 minutes away from the Fort Lauderdale airport, so if you’re planning on coming to Art Basel, stop by.
Photos Courtesy of Museum of Arts, Betty Rosado and Steven Brooke