Bass Museum's 50th Year Brings Public Art to the People

The Bass Museum of Art is celebrating its 50th Anniversary year and things are off to a strong start with a $75,000 Knight Arts Grant. This is exciting news for art lovers and for the museum's long-suffering Egyptian mummy, who will no longer need to earn his keep through public appearances at car dealerships and dermatological conventions.

Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the museum's executive director and chief curator, explains why the Bass is funneling this money into its public art initiatives:

"It's a matter of impact and accessibility. Having exhibitions outdoors reaches people who want to go in, who don't want to, who never would. It's a different population from our museum's visitors. There's a buzzword in the art world right now called 'creative placemaking,' but it's really the right term for this."

One of the previous creative places made by the Bass was a set of six cement benches by Teresa Margolles, positioned in the park outside the museum's entrance.

"They were kind of like chaise longues," Cubiñá says. "At 10 a.m., we had the dog walkers. At 3 p.m., we would have the high school kids, who'd hang out or have a snack. Then more dogs, then the homeless. It was a pattern every day. And there would be mixes, too. They would all congregate and it was beautiful."

There was more to the Margolles benches, of course. The water mixed into their cement had previously been used to wash murder victims' bodies in a Guadalajara morgue. The benches took the form of crumpled morgue slabs recast as monuments.

Many of the public gestures by the museum fall under the aegis of its Temporary Contemporary program. This is the same initiative that commissioned Agustina Woodgate's hopscotch court hundreds of squares long; Kevin Arrow's short film that connected the destruction of Gianni Versace's home to defunct Miami noise rock band Harry Pussy; and Jaume Plensa's internally-lit color-shifting resin gargoyles mounted atop steel pillars in Collins Park. One of the upcoming Temporary Contemporary installations will be a trio of site-specific outdoor chess tables designed and built by artist Jim Drain. Visitors will be able to leave their IDs or keys with museum in exchange for the matching chess pieces. Or, give the desk clerk your roommate's ID and keys, getting you some free art and a break from her snoring for once.

"It's an offering," according to Cubiñá. "It's an object you can interact with anyway you want."

The Temporary Contemporary installations will be augmented with concert and live works of art. The first of these came this past weekend when the Miami Symphony Orchestra played a free outdoor concert to usher in the Bass Museum's 50th anniversary year.

"We're 50 and fabulous," Cubiñá says, perhaps hinting that the Bass Museum's mummy has been cast as a romantic rival in the rumored Miami-set Sex and the City sequel. But who has time for idle gossip when there is so much coming up at the Bass?

"In March, we have our usual design exhibition. This year it will be guest curated by Harold Koda, the Curator-in-Charge of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York."

Like all shows by the Bass, this one, called Vanitas: Fashion and Art will link contemporary work to pieces from the museum's permanent collection. Avant garde clothes and haute couture will be displayed among paintings, new media and industrial design objects.

"It's going to be spectacular," Cubiñá promises.

Then in April, the Bass will host a traveling solo exhibition of more than 30 sculptures by African artist El Anatsui. He uses appropriated materials and the pieces in this show are made from found wood and manufacturing detritus including bottle caps from a Nigerian distillery. It's a mix of floor sculptures and wall sculptures that have deceptive textures and blend traditional scultpture, painting, readymades and commercial design into a unique hybrid.

"We're very excited to be hosting it. We just got NEA and Knight grants for that exhibition. We're grateful for those and for the Knight Foundation's continued support," Cubiñá says, which is good to hear but doesn't take the place of a well-worded thank you note.

Throughout the year, the Bass is "committed to keep opening on Friday nights. When the recession hit, we eliminated morning hours. After analyzing traffic patterns, we're adding exciting events to Fridays. Jazz, lectures, guided tours. That's part of opening up to people who work all day and prefer to come on a Friday night."

Heck, even if you're a shiftless leech, you should still go to the Bass on Friday nights. A tour might be the closest thing you have to finding some direction in your life.

"It's really important to open up to different people," Cubiñá says. "We want to make sure everyone can enjoy the Bass museum."

Visit the Bass Museum of Art at 2100 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Or, if you're a shut-in whom the neighbor kids tell ghost stories about, you can always go to bassmuseum.org.

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