In Conversation: Maritza Lacayo: Assistant Curator at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM)

Maritza Lacayo is Assistant Curator at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). At PAMM she has organized numerous exhibition projects, including: George Segal: Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael (2019), Polyphonic: Celebrating PAMM’s Fund for African American Art (2020, co curated with René Morales), The Artist as Poet: Selections from PAMM’s Collection (2021), Marco Brambilla: Heaven’s Gate (2021), Jedd Novatt: Monotypes and More (2021), among others. Lacayo has numerous exhibitions forthcoming, including: Jason Seife: Coming to Fruition, and co-organizing Marisol and Warhol Take New York and Leandro Erlich: Liminal on behalf of PAMM. She has managed the production of various publications and exhibition catalogues for PAMM including Dara Friedman: Perfect Stranger (2017); On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection (2017); william cordova: now’s the time: narratives of southern alchemy (2018); Ebony G. Patterson…while the dew is still on the roses… (2018); The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art (2019); Beatriz González: A Retrospective (2019); and Lynne Gelfman: Grids (2021). Lacayo curated the Exhibition of Works by 2019 YoungArts Winners (Regional) and the National Winners exhibition in 2020. Lacayo has contributed writing to numerous platforms and exhibition catalogues. Most recently, her essay There’s Something in the Way she Poses, will be included in artist Richard Dupont’s upcoming monograph; and her essay, The Haziness of Memory, was published on the event of artist Vaughn Spann’s first monograph and exhibition at Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels.


  • Meet Maritza Lacayo of P rez Art Museum Miami in Downtown Miami, VoyageMIA, June 24, 2020

    Meet Maritza Lacayo of P rez Art Museum Miami in Downtown Miami

    VoyageMIA, June 24, 2020

    Today we’d like to introduce you to Maritza Lacayo.


    Thanks for sharing your story with us Maritza. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
    I was born and raised right here in Miami, FL, so Miami is home. At La Salle High School, I had a wonderful Art History teacher, Ms. Jurado, who inspired me to study Art History at the university level and that is how my career trajectory “started,” I guess you could say. When it came time to choose a school, I chose to move abroad and attended the American University of Paris for the four full years of undergraduate. The university offers a rigorous and challenging Art History program that also includes museum courses, study trips, and various other components I would not have been able to partake in had I remained in the US for schooling.


    After completing my BA in Art History at the American University of Paris, I moved to London and began working toward my MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Art and Art World Practice from the Christie’s Education Program, University of Glasgow. The year and a half in London was wonderful and included much hands-on training and also Curatorial and Registration studies. I wrote my MLitt thesis on André Breton’s “poem-object” artworks from the late thirties and early forties, an idea that I first began to research during university. I graduated with Honors and was then awarded a highly sought after internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. At the PGC, I sharpened my public speaking skills and worked to create a truly unique experience for our visitors. I was so deeply in love with the collection, its history, and its impact on the community that I knew I’d chosen the right field of study.


    When the internship came to an end, it was the first time in my life when I had no “next-step” lined up. As many young people feel after their studies come to a close, I was unsure about coming back home. Ironically enough, one of the last papers I wrote for my MLitt courses was about Perez Art Museum Miami. I focused on Miami’s cultural history and wrote from a personal perspective about why I chose to leave the city and study Art History in places that could provide the education I felt I deserved. Miami was not the city where one grew up going to the museum. Unlike New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, the list goes on–Miami was a place that lacked that strong institutional perspective. Although PAMM had existed previously at the Miami Art Museum and the Center for the Fine Arts, it certainly wasn’t part of my upbringing or schooling. To me, Miami was a place that lacked the workplace I dreamed to work in until PAMM made a new name for itself at its newly constructed waterfront building in Downtown Miami.


    I began working at PAMM in 2016 as part of the Visitor Services department. Working part-time at PAMM’s front desk, I got to know the staff, converse with visitors, and learn about the artworks on view. My aspirations were clear from the beginning, I wanted to work in the Curatorial department. As many people already know, Curatorial departments see very little turnaround and there are already very few opportunities in this field to begin with. I took my chances and remained patient. As luck would have it, the job of Curatorial Assistant became available and I applied that very same day. I began working as PAMM’s Curatorial Assistant in March of 2017 and have remained with the department since.


    In 2020, I was promoted to Curatorial Assistant and Publications Coordinator, a title that better represented the majority of my responsibilities at PAMM. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to manage the entire production and editing process of our exhibition catalogues. I also manage the production and editing of all of our wall texts, labels, brochures, and any other additional didactics our visitors have access to within the museum. I have the unique pleasure of working on all of the exhibitions at PAMM, which has also put me in a unique position to tour our visitors throughout the entire museum, upon special request. Working and conversing with our public is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.


    I’ve also begun curating exhibitions at PAMM since 2019. My first project was George Segal: Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael, a sculpture from PAMM’s permanent collection on display for the first time since its complete restoration. Polyphonic: Celebrating PAMM’s Fund for African American Art opened in February 2020 and was co-organized with Chief Curator, René Morales. This was a wonderful opportunity to work with someone who has been a mentor of mine for years. This exhibition celebrates PAMM’s commitment to the collect, acquire, and exhibit works of art by African American artists.


    Has it been a smooth road?
    It has not been a smooth road, but I believe that this inherently comes with the Curatorial career path. Opportunities in Curatorial departments are slim. There aren’t many positions in the field to begin with and there are many who are fighting for those few roles. The competition begins when applying for a Master’s degree. Slots in curatorial studies programs are limited and there were only about 30 of us in total when I attended the Christie’s Education Program in London in 2013-14. At PAMM, I worked in the Visitor Services department as a Visitor Services Assistant. This wasn’t my goal but I saw it as the ideal stepping stone, a way to get to know the staff and make a name for myself within the institution. There were days when I became frustrated, thinking that there would never be a role for me in the department I had studied so hard to join.


    Ultimately, I saw each day as an opportunity to learn more about the institution, learn more about its staff, and if an opportunity ever presented itself, I would already feel like an integrated part of the team. When the position of Curatorial Assistant became available, I knew that it was my only chance. After a rigorous and difficult interview process, I was chosen as PAMM’s new Curatorial Assistant in March of 2017. The step from Curatorial Assistant to curating my own exhibitions has also been tough. There are only so many slots on what we call the “grid” or exhibition schedule. I had an idea for an exhibition in my back pocket since the day I joined the department and it will finally be realized in early 2021. At cultural institutions such as museums, the progress can be slow and daunting. It has been imperative to speak up about what my goals are and what kind of projects I’d like to work on. In due time, I’ve received the mentorship I’ve always looked for.


    Please tell us about Pérez Art Museum Miami.
    Pérez Art Museum Miami is Miami’s flagship art museum and collects and exhibits modern and contemporary art. We proudly see ourselves as a place for the Miami community to gather, Miami’s “front porch” so to speak. We see art as a catalyst for genuine human interaction, which is why our educational programming is so rich and robust. At PAMM, I am the Curatorial Assistant and Publications Coordinator. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to manage the entire production and editing process of our exhibition catalogues. I also manage the production and editing of all of our wall texts, labels, brochures, and any other additional didactics our visitors have access to within the museum. I have the unique pleasure of working on all of the exhibitions at PAMM, which has also put me in a unique position to tour our visitors throughout the entire museum, upon special request. Working and conversing with our public is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I am certainly known for the catalogues that I produce on behalf of the institution and as the primary representative of the department when liaising with other departments within the museum.


    I am most proud of the way PAMM has thoughtfully and lovingly committed to collecting, exhibiting, and promoting the work of black and brown artists. We want our community to feel welcome at PAMM, for them to see work on the walls that is representative of the community itself. We have always taken that responsibility seriously. Through the formation of PAMM’s Fund for African American Art, for example, we have acquired historical and contemporary works by African American artists for the PAMM collection–filling in the gaps within the history of art. We see this as a major responsibility for institutions to take on and we are certainly on the forefront of that conversation. I am also incredibly proud of the diversity within the institution’s staff, but specifically the Curatorial department. In 2018, the New York Times labeled PAMM’s Curatorial department the most diverse in the country. Diversity matters because it means that the exhibitions we plan are diverse as well. We all have different backgrounds, stories to tell, and this is reflected in the work we acquire and exhibit.


    Is our city a good place to do what you do?
    I do believe that Miami is the perfect city for an institution like PAMM. As a matter of fact, PAMM has flourished in order to serve the Miami community in a unique and personal way. With modern and contemporary art as its focus, PAMM creates a safe space for people to come together, experience the art for themselves, have difficult conversations, and learn from each other. We are proud of the way we relate to our community, we believe that people feel welcome and encouraged to be themselves when they walk through our doors.I came back to Miami after completing my Master’s degree because I felt that it was a place of opportunity. To work at PAMM at this time is to be a part of something much bigger. Miami is a cultural and artistic hub with much more room for growth. I could have moved to New York or LA in the hopes of joining a Curatorial department at any of their incredible institutions, but there is something much sweeter about coming home and contributing to the building of a unique artistic and cultural community. Especially at an institution that I am incredibly proud to represent and work for.

  • Essays

  • Maritza Lacayo, Art Is……, Pérez Art Museum Miami, April 21, 2020

    Tschabalala Self. Chopped Cheese, 2017. Courtesy of the  Pérez Art Museum Miami, 

    Maritza Lacayo, Art Is……

    Pérez Art Museum Miami, April 21, 2020

    Art is…a wonderful thing, especially in times like these. Most recently, Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) opened Polyphonic: Celebrating PAMM’s Fund for African American Art. The exhibition itself is a celebration of what PAMM has accomplished with the Fund for African American Art, but it is also a celebration of the ways in which seemingly unrelated works of art can come together in harmony and champion for a larger cause. A solidarity of sorts. Polyphonic was chosen as a title in celebration as well—these artworks, displayed together, form a unity within the gallery that prevailed as a strong and impactful way to deliver a message to our visitors. The exhibition itself celebrates what is often-times overlooked. It is so common, so unnec-essarily prevalent, to pigeonhole artists into certain means of creation. At the heart of this exhibition is a rejection of the premise that there is anything like a single, unified African American artistic style or tendency. In con-trast to historical efforts to dictate that African American artists should conform to one mold or another, Polyphonic revels in the rich differ-ences that are clearly and proudly on display.


    The process was interesting, as most exhibition planning tends to be. The initial challenge was finding the specific ways in which the works could dialogue with one another. This could then help Réne Morales and myself (co-curators of the exhibition) determine the ways in which the works could be hung within the space. Thematically, we knew there were strong and deep connections we could work with. Visually, we were unsure of the right way to approach the space. After moving the artworks around—multiple times and in multiple ways—we came to the right formula. We knew that the exhibition was ready for our audience and we were excited for the reveal. The way we envisioned the viewer walking through the space varied. One could experience it by walking straight into the space and across the gallery, stumbling upon Vaughn Spann’s Marked Man (Mitchell) (2019). One could turn their head left and have a contemplative moment in front of Faith Ringgold’s Black Light Series #1: Big Black (1967). However, one thing was absolutely clear, the exhibition would come to a joyous end once the visitor arrived at Lorraine O’Grady’s Art Is… (1983/2009).


    This work consists of 40 chromogenic prints all placed closely together to form a perfect grid. The only vertical image hangs on its own on the right, seemingly a conclusion to the narrative created by the other neatly organized photographs. O’Grady has worked across mediums to create conceptual projects that interrogate issues of identity, class, gender, and social structure. Art Is… was inspired by a remark one of O’Grady’s acquaintances once made, that avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people. Struck by this statement of profound exclusion, O’Grady responded by creating an avant-garde work at one of the largest gatherings of the black community in New York—the African American Day Parade that takes place each year in Harlem.


    For the 1983 parade, O’Grady created a float topped with a massive gilt frame that captured everything as it passed by—turning the everyday into art. O’Grady and 15 collaborators dressed in white engaged the crowd with smaller frames, allowing parade-goers to stand in the frames and in this way become avant-garde art themselves. The documentary images taken by bystanders at the performances, collected by O’Grady and on view at PAMM, capture the joyful, spontaneous tone of this participatory work, while suggesting the sociopolitical importance of art and inclusion. The piece serves as a reminder that community is indeed irreplaceable. The work not only gives us a glimpse into the community’s participation but the work itself would also not be possible without their participation. The work comes alive only when others then engage with it—engage with the community who helped create it. There is a lapse in time that is filled and reconnected when the work is on display. Right now, many of us are cooped up in our homes trying to find ways in which to entertain ourselves, reinvent ourselves, bring joy to ourselves. It is no exaggeration when I proudly exclaim that without art, none of us would survive a time like this. The images of rejoice and celebration seen in Art Is… is what we imagine we will experience when the streets are ready for our return. There will be a firm and uncomplicated sense of community that feels overwhelmingly natural, or at least, I’d like to believe so. This series of photographs reminds us that it has been done before and it will be felt again.


    Polyphonic is proof that avant-garde art does indeed have everything to do with black people, with brown people, with women, with communities of all colors and creeds. Art is very much the lifeblood of humanity. It is what brings us joy and brings us together. All artworks are interactive—they require a viewer, they require you.