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February 2020 Exhibitions at the Bass

The Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach punches above its weight class in three exhibitions on view now. The Museum is the grandfather of the now thriving Miami Art scene, and as such I expected more from the institution itself. How many leading institutions in a leading art city don’t have a permanent gallery? Still, it is a charming visit for the modern art afficiando who takes their talents to South Beach, and in February 2020 I’ll vouch for the exhibitions on display.

Bass Museum of Art, front entrance through a small public statuary park
Bass Museum of Art, front entrance through a small public statuary park

An easy litmus test if you’ll like the Bass is the opening wall of welcome: a large installation, saturated with electronics. That description fits the three main events:


Mickalene Thomas: Better Nights is an installment billed as an “apartment re-creation”, with some message about African American femininity the brochures took pains to note. There are some playful individual rooms, but I couldn’t hold it together as a composite. The art on the walls was too evidently that of…a modern art museum installation. The carpet sections on the floor have a variety of samples of the seventies, but it was discombobulated. The floor of any installation is a bad place for bicolage.

While the collective effect didn’t hit home, I found individual pieces interesting:

Derrick Adams, Figures in the Urban Landscape 39
Derrick Adams, Figures in the Urban Landscape 39

Does the installation come more alive with more visitors? Perhaps. The throwback dance floor room was a fine technical achievement, and I’ll just share the Museum’s photo which is better than mine:

Mickalene Thomas' installation in the Bass Museum's Taplin Gallery

Haegue Yang’s In the Cone of Uncertainty also swallows large rooms in her installations in ways that are captivating in the moment, but quickly forgettable thereafter. The presence of the projection machinery and too many wires breaks the spell:

Haegue Yang's Red Broken Mountain Labyrinth at Bass Museum
slowly moving lights project around and through red blinds in Red Broken Mountain Labyrinth 2008
Haegue Yang's Red Broken Mountain Labyrinth at Bass Museum, long view

Another room of hers is intriguing with the hybridized natural-electronic plants, flowering both fruit and hands.

The ambience of this, as other rooms in the gallery, is enhanced with sounds. In this case, birds, apparently recorded at the DMZ in the artist’s native Korea. Would one materialize and alight on a “plant?” It was a neat effect…but not a lasting one.

The best of Yang’s work is a two-story wallpaper hot off the presses: Coordinates of Speculative Solidarity. Google Maps gone wild:

Coordinates of Speculative Solidarity (2019)
A Hurricane moving through Miami?

The full effect of the brilliant wallpaper I think is lost with the relatively pedestrian pieces in the middle of the exhibition space. More lights on grates here as well, but they work better in person than in my photograph.

A surprise treat at the end was the slowly captivating work of Lara Favaretto. Several pieces in quick succession compose her exhibition Blind Spot, a contemplation of time and loss and erosion in different forms.

The entryway has three paintings “cocooned” in wool, one occluded by metal tubes as well: a macro & micro slicing. This is an “act of obfuscation and erasure” says the accompanying guide. Perhaps. I certainly found myself peering in at different angles to get glimpses of the underlying work, but was also just impressed with the technical achievement particularly int he diptych of blue & grey wool. What Agnes Martin does (often) with pencil, Lara Favaretto is doing with wool, and as a meta layer on paintings.

interestingly, the underlying paintings are easier to “see” in photographs than in person
A close up on the right of the diptych in Lara Favaretto: Blind Spot
A close up on the right of the diptych

You are lured into the second room of the exhibit by a soft breeze — always welcome in Miami — made by large, clean, and colorful car wash brushes! This is your intro to Gummo VI, also a site-specific installation and part of the museum’s permanent collection

Are we the ones being cleaned? Is there a message in the absence of that ur-villain of the environmentally-sensitive intelligentsia, the car? Whatever the deeper meaning I was mesmerized, looking both widely and closely at the play of light on each color.

The coda to the exhibit – almost easy to miss after being transfixed by such primary colors in motion – is Momentary Moment — The Library, a bookshelf that had at one point contained over 2,000 books (destined for remaindering?) but the exhibit encouraged people to take one.

picture of Momentary Monument - The Library as of February 20, 2020
Momentary Monument – The Library as of February 20, 2020

Unsurprisingly for the contemporary art crowd, Sean Wilentz’ highly regarded Age of Reagan sits lonely on an upper shelf (the blue-black cover in my photo). A side note: the “Age” overlaps with the Nixon administration, who was nominated for the presidency down the street in Miami Beach. Coincidence? I was tempted to take it but with many stops to go in my day, I eschewed it and kind of regret it now.

These three exhibits, of mixed quality, are enough to lure me back to the Bass one day and enough to propel me forward to the Perez Museum of Art, on which I’ll write tomorrow.

Published inArt and Architecture

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