After more than two years and $12 million worth of renovations, the Bass — Miami Beach's only contemporary art institution — will finally reopen its doors to the public this weekend. The revamp has completely transformed the museum’s interior, nearly doubling the programmable space and adding a café and a center for children and teens, without altering the building’s footprint.
“We removed the large ramp to make space for the new galleries, cafés, and offices,” chief curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá says. “The new Creativity Center will house all our educational programs we host year-round.”
Working with Arata Isozaki and Associates of Tokyo, the firm that designed the museum’s first expansion in 2001, the Bass added four new galleries to house the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. The Creativity Center contains two new classrooms and multimedia labs that are also packed with site-specific and specially commissioned works from local and international artists.
Miami artist and designer Emmett Moore collaborated with the designers on the Creativity Center’s lobby. Moore fuses his passion for architecture and interior design with an art-world sensibility in his work. The results are offbeat pieces that are both functional and sculptural. Cuban-born artist Rafael Domenech contributed a piece used as a lighting fixture in one classroom. Domenech also embraces an interdisciplinary approach to his work, delving into the study of repetition, renewal, and implosion in highly researched and elaborate sculptural pieces. Amanda Season Keeley, a Miami-based artist, curator, and writer, contributed a rolling structure to house books, catalogs, and other exhibition publications for a veritable library on wheels.
Not to be outdone by the fresh digs, the Bass' curatorial team mounted exhibitions by internationally acclaimed artists Ugo Rondinone and Pascale Marthine Tayou (with a third show, by Mika Rottenberg, set to open for Art Basel Miami Beach) that add flurries of color to the new gallery spaces.
“Beautiful” displays pieces from the museum’s permanent collection alongside a selection of Tayou’s work for a unique experience. Born in Cameroon and based in Ghent, Belgium, Tayou offers a diverse mishmash of elements, including stacked arabic pots, plastic eggs, and gold foil. The mix of media and subject matter represent a decade of work that seamlessly blends with the museum’s collection of paintings from old European masters such as El Greco and Rubens. The intervention not only is a new way to showcase the Bass’ most prized pieces but also speaks to the work of a contemporary artist devoted to exploring the cultural remnants of colonization in his personal history and heritage as an artist living and working in diaspora.
The show also marks the first U.S. solo museum exhibition for the Swiss-born, New York-based Rondinone, whose career spans three decades. Titled “Good Evening Beautiful Blue,” the retrospective comprises three installations: Vocabulary of Solitude (2014), Clockwork for Oracles II (2008), and A Place Where Nothing Happens (1999-2000). The show fills the museum’s second floor and ranges from video and installation to performance and collage.
“We are proud to present Ugo Rondinone’s first U.S. museum show,” Karman Cubiñá says. “The newly transformed Bass reflects the spirit of Miami Beach.”
The show centers on Vocabulary of Solitude, an installation of 45 life-size clown statues in a variety of costumes and posses throughout the exhibition space. The sprawling piece represents the different aspects of the artist’s daily routine: Each figure portrays an activity, from walking and showering to remembering and dreaming. Though they’re festooned with the artist’s trademark fluorescent colors, these clowns aren’t happy-go-lucky circus characters entertaining with slapstick gags. Isolated, dejected, and depressed, each statue stares into the distance instead of engaging with the others or the viewer. The installation embodies the spirit of the artist’s work: a contrast between an outer semblance and a deeper hidden meaning.
All beings possess the same conflict: a struggle between the outer and the inner selves. A coat of makeup on a person’s face can hide emotional torment, for example. Yet the artist remains agnostic about the implications of this point of view. Rather than judge glaring hypocrisies, Rondinone's dualities are a source of beauty, not dissonance. It’s the ambiguities created by the contrasts that make his works so alluring, even to the untrained eye.
“Because Ugo’s practice deals with duality, the juxtaposition is inherent to much of his work,” Bass curator Leilani Lynch says. “The colorful, sometimes shiny or reflective materials used can seem superficial at first, but as you spend time in each installation, the details trigger self-reflection and introspection.”
Born in Brunnen, Switzerland, to Italian parents, Rondinone always had a passion for fine arts. In school, he worked as an assistant to Austrian avant-garde performance artist Hermann Nitsch at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He came onto the international art scene first as a painter, developing his trademark palette of bright colors early on. His first foray into public art took the form of large neon signs in the vein of Jenny Holzer. With imperative phrases such as “Hell, yes!” “Our magic hour” and “Dog days are over,” they were meant to shock the average passerby, awaking the spectator from a state of complacency with their vibrant rainbow pattern. Unlike Holzer's work, though, Rondinone’s pieces are imbued with a sense of irreverence that’s emblematic of his work.
In Clockwork for Oracles II, the artist’s penchant for tongue-in-cheek interventions is on full display. The piece is composed of 52 mirrored windows, one for each week of the year, set against a backdrop of whitewashed local newspaper clippings. Visitors contemplate their own reflections while reading the headlines that fade throughout the duration of the exhibition. It’s a play on the transience of art-gazing against the permanence of print — another contrast that both attracts and repels the viewer.
The last installation, A Place Where Nothing Happens, is the most unconventional in the retrospective. The blue-tinted exhibition space shows projected slow-motion loops of six men and six women performing everyday gestures, such as opening a door, without acknowledging the spectator. Both the setting and the lack of action set the stage for an introspective atmosphere, provoking the viewer to turn inward.
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“Ugo is a proponent of the idea that art should be felt or experienced rather than understood, and I think that carries through into the work he makes,” Lynch explains. “His use of everyday materials and universally recognizable symbols — clowns, newspaper, windows, doors, rainbows, for example — make the work accessible for multiple audiences.”
And it’s precisely that accessibility that the Bass is eager to achieve. During the two and a half years the museum was shuttered for renovations, Miami’s institutional cultural landscape has dramatically shifted. Once the area's lone hub for contemporary art, the Bass now competes with museums such as Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the new Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), due to open in December, for attention.
If the Bass plans to thrive in Miami’s increasingly crowded institutional landscape, it must engage both local and seasonal audiences with diverse and engaging programming. The museum’s newly renovated galleries and educational center are only the first steps on that journey, but its new exhibitions ensure that those first steps will be vibrant.
The Bass' Grand Opening. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, October 29, at 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; thebass.org. Admission is free all day.