The Miami museum’s executive director on the renovation that expanded space by almost 50 per cent, discovering Instagram art, and the prospect of ‘sonic sculptures’ from South Korea
It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when my love of art began. I had a French teacher in high school who taught us about art and architecture, all aspects of French culture, in addition to the language itself. She made us go to operas and listen to classical music. I think perhaps that is why I now love performance art. It has the same immediacy, the unmediated connection between the artist and the public. So I am very grateful to that French teacher.
The Bass is Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum. The Art Deco building dates back to 1938 (for Miami, that is historic). Fast-forward to 2001, when the museum underwent a first expansion; then, under my tenure, we modernised the space, brought it into the now.
I learn something new each and every day. Just last week, I was learning about Instagram art. I’m learning new things about interactivity from artists: there is a great deal of excitement around interactivity and audience participation in the art world at the moment. And all of us are learning from this generation of museum visitors. Over the past 15 years in Miami, we have seen the growth of a sophisticated and excited public for museums.
Over the past three years, The Bass has been actively acquiring contemporary art. Allora & Calzadilla’s Petrifed Petrol Pump (Pemex II), above, and Paola Pivi’s Call Me Anything You Want are among the recent additions. Both works make reference to time, the environment and natural beauty. The petrol pump has a sense of decay, a sad beauty. It is this thing that has ceased to be shiny and machine-like — that time is in the past — and now it is more organic. Paola’s work consists of 20 pearl pieces, the colour of which shades from stark white to black. It is really beautiful, poetic and lyrical. We also have a robust commissioning programme that started in 2016 with Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain (below) — a highly colourful piece to sit alongside the largely monochromatic permanent collection.
I don’t have favourites, but I love Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Welcome Wall. It’s the first work you see on entering the building. It is made up of LEDs that flash the word ‘welcome’ in more than 70 languages. I saw a variation of it, a cousin of this work, at the Pompidou, where the translated word was ‘open’. I approached Pascale and asked him to create a work in this series for our reopening. He said, ‘Yes, but I will have to get back to you and tell you your word.’ Three days later, he called back and said, ‘I have been researching Miami and decided that your word is “welcome”, because you welcome people from all over.’ Our contract allows us to add or subtract new welcome words in any language in perpetuity — so in a way it continues to be a conversation, and is all the more welcoming for that.
There is a wonderful preoccupation with colour and with abstract form in Sheila Hicks’s work. Campo Abierto (Open Field) opened at The Bass in April and consists of monumental works from the six decades of her career in textiles. Several of the pieces are being presented in the USA for the first time. In November, we are opening a solo exhibition by South Korean artist Haegue Yang. Many of the works are still in the making, but it is probably going to be the largest show we have done to date. It will take up much of the upstairs and downstairs. There is talk of ‘sonic sculptures’, but we don’t yet know what that means.
My favourite is always the artist I am currently working with. So right now it’s Haegue Yang. If we are talking about artists outside the contemporary scene, I would point to the Cuban, Wifredo Lam. His paintings stop me in my tracks. The Gutai Group of Japan is very underrated. Since many of their works of art were performative or ephemeral, much of what we know only comes from photographs of what took place. What I value in their work is the removal of everything commercial. There is a purity in that. If you take away the material and the commercial element, what is left? I love to ponder that question.
I would like to have a conversation with John Cage — for the same reasons I mentioned in connection with Gutai. What do you do when there is no form left? Cage was the first to open the membrane of contemporary art, and he added so many elements.
Find out more about what’s on show and coming up at The Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach