The Bass Museum is one of Miami's most overlooked institutions. Located in a historic art deco building that formerly housed the Miami Beach Public Library, the museum opened its doors in 1964 propelled by a generous donation from eponymous benefactors. Yet, it wasn't until 2002 that architect Arata Isozaki nearly doubled the cramped floor space to create a more expansive feel. This year, that same architect is presiding over massive design renovations that will again double the programmable space without altering its footprint. Despite the scope of the project, nothing is stopping the curatorial team from championing exhibits in adjoining facilities.
Located right next door at the Miami Beach Regional Library, BassX opened with a show of photographer Rachel Harrison titled Voyage of the Beagle, Two. The one room exhibit takes its name from Charles Darwin's famed trip aboard the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands; however, this voyage is anything but scientific.
“Just as Darwin conducted his research, this is the artist’s fieldwork,” explains Bass curator of exhibitions José Carlos Diaz. “Viewers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions and the Library is a perfect place to begin their research.”
The work is a series of photographs that begins and ends with a shot of a menhir, the prehistoric standing stones that represent the oldest figurative sculptures on earth. Playing off the original image, Harrison launches into a photographic stream of consciousness with each image linked only by her subjective appraisal of their continuity. It's not so much a physical, but rather a psychological voyage into the ostensible meaninglessness of representation.
A picture of Diana Ross leads to one of an alien mask, then to a bronze bust, and so on. Harrison enjoys mixing metaphors, mediums, styles, and periods to create a bizarrely homogenous hodgepodge. Viewing it is an experience similar to scrolling through an analog Tumblr or Instagram feed. But instead of different authors, this series is united by the same artistic voice.
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The work is a warm confrontation with an overwhelmingly commercial aspect of modern representation. It is not so much what we're seeing, but how we're seeing them that's important.
Removed of all their original contexts, the objects are given new meaning in Harrison's series. Mostly figurative and some abstract, the photographed objects become a part of the artist's construction of contemporary culture. Her eye is undiscriminating among low- and high-art objects — giving equal placement to museum pieces, kitsch items, and representational sculptures — as well as time. In her series, established categories are subverted in place of her own subjective sense. Much in the same way Daniel Arsham is interested in the way archeologist and museums selectively highlight the artifacts deemed noteworthy from a particular civilization, Harrison looks to upend those same processes.
The exhibit is just the first in several planned at
Rachel Harrison's Voyage of the Beagle, Two
On view through November 15 at BassX at Miami Beach Regional Library, 227 22nd Street, Miami Beach. The gallery is open during the library's public hours, Monday and Tuesday, noon to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free; 305-673-7530; bassmuseum.org.