Inside the Dania Beach warehouse called Gallery of Amazing Things, the art on display does much to reflect the name of its home: 10-foot-tall chandeliers studded with porcelain butterflies, limestone fossils, World War II-era naval binoculars and even the handblown glass creations of Dale Chihuly.
Roughly two dozen Chihuly works occupy a black-walled room in the new Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts, located on the gallery's second floor. Resting on pedestals at varying heights, the multicolored, bowllike works resemble coral reefs. On nearby pedestals are fragile sculptures that resemble pink tentacles and green, twisting flowers.
"It feels like you're underwater in here, all these sea forms," says Arron Rimpley, an art dealer, collector and the gallery's co-owner with partner Gregg Whittecar, during a tour of the gallery. "We have at least 100 Chihulys, but that's all we can fit in here. You rarely ever see one, let alone this many."
Rimpley and Whittecar opened the museum in late January, about two years after they purchased the 50,000-square-foot warehouse on Federal Highway. When Rimpley bought it, the building was massive but decaying, with rotting floorboards and ripped-out electrical wiring, and a lone relic hanging on the Federal Highway-facing wall: a metal tyrannosaurus rex, which belonged to the previous tenant, the Graves Museum of Archaeology and Natural History. Broward's only natural history museum shuttered in 2004.
"Everything looked horrendous. It was a war zone," he says. "But the neighborhood is great, and [the Design Center of the Americas] is nearby. The city is really trying. They gave us a facade improvement grant, and we really feel Dania Beach is the best possible location."
The building's first floor houses five galleries, including the Eostone Fossil Gallery, which sells smooth-rock countertops embedded, Rimpley says, "with real, Eocene-era fossils." Another gallery sells porcelain figurines manufactured by the Spanish company Lladr¿. Other galleries function as event-planning spaces, which he says has hosted "tons of bar mitzvahs" and "James Bond-themed parties."
"Everyone wants to party here," says Rimpley, of Miami Beach. "We've got huge collections to match the biggest museums around the world."
Upstairs, the Wiener Museum was created to store a private client's collection of Chihuly glass and thousands of British ceramic pieces spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. A pottery factory's crest greets visitors at the second-floor entrance, as does more boasting: "The Most Comprehensive British Ceramics Museum in the United States," one brochure reads. Galleries filled with Victorian-era and modern ceramics line the walls of the museum and are laid out chronologically, starting with busts of English noblemen from the early 18th century through more-modern stoneware, including crimson-red flambé pottery.
Rimpley says WMODA's ceramics and Chihuly glass should remain on permanent public display, but he recently hired a new museum director, Louise Irvine, who will curate new exhibits when she begins on March 1.
"This has the potential to be huge," he says. "The gallery is a place to attract plenty of scholarly people, but also patrons just coming to look at the art."
Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday
Where: Gallery of Amazing Things, second floor, 481 S. Federal Highway, Dania Beach