Back in 2003, when José Carlos Diaz wanted to curate an art exhibition, he cleared out his Wynwood apartment, called it The Worm Hole Laboratory, and packed the house with friends and art enthusiasts by writing his own press releases, making fliers, and using other methods he learned while interning for the Rubell Family Collection. Ten years later, Diaz brings the same drive for success to Miami Beach’s Bass Museum of Art as its new curator of exhibitions.
“It was a do-it-yourself, grassroots approach to curating with a staff of one and a budget of zero,” he says. “It was a way for a curator to have a forum to practice gathering objects and coming up with thematic ways of presenting them.”
That experience was the start of a career for Diaz, who, after stints at the Miami Art Museum and Diana Lowenstein Gallery, packed his bags for England, where he earned a master’s degree in cultural history from the University of Liverpool and worked at the Tate Liverpool gallery as well as the Liverpool Biennial—the largest international contemporary art festival in the UK. But home is where the heart is for Diaz, so after nearly five years abroad he returned to South Beach.
“Once I left Miami to pursue my master’s, I was able to not only gain exposure to international collections and institutions but also work for one of the biggest institutions, the Tate Gallery,” he says. “I just learned what was artistically happening beyond the walls of Miami. As a native of Miami, I think it’s really special to bring all those experiences back.”
Diaz returned to find that not only had he grown as a scholar of the arts, but the city he loves had grown as well. His old Wynwood neighborhood is thriving, and Miami’s museum culture is on the rise, making it a leading destination in the art world.
“The art scene is amazing, the way it has transformed,” he says. “There’s always been a focus on the galleries and local artists here, but now the museums are starting to get global attention. On a global scale, we can show different exhibitions that may not necessarily be on view in New York and London but are of the same quality.”
Diaz’s first order of business at the Bass Museum will be several new shows opening this month: an exhibition from Hernan Bas, a tribute to banned books by Manny Prieres, and the reenactment of historical pieces in the Bass collection from Romania-based performance artists Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus that will run during Art Basel. More of his Midas touch will be seen next year when—in honor of its 50th anniversary—the museum will feature a show on gold. Throughout it all, Diaz aims to mesh the worlds of classical and contemporary art.
“We’ve got everything from Egyptian mummies to 17th-century Flemish tapestries to Renaissance paintings, but we also have contemporary pieces, so I want to bridge the gap and create narratives,” he says. “We don’t need to just show contemporary art. We don’t need to just show historical things. We can play around with it. Miami, especially as it has developed over the past 10 to 15 years, is definitely a playground to try things out and see what succeeds.”