The Bass museum in Miami Beach reopens with new exhibits and old masters

After a two-year absence, the Bass museum in Miami Beach is back, now with a $12 million face-lift and bold new works hanging inside its revamped gallery spaces.

The new vision for the privately run, city-owned museum is a thoughtful blend of old masters and contemporary art, says Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the Bass’ executive director. The biggest example: Botticelli’s 1492 masterwork “The Coronation of the Virgin” decorates one expanded downstairs gallery, which is also covered floor to ceiling in 2,000 multicolored plastic eggs. Works by El Greco, Rubens and Van Dyck are also in the room, alongside tribal masks and stacked Arabic pots by Cameroon-born artist Pascale Marthine Tayou, whose new exhibit, “Beautiful,” will debut when the Bass reopens this Sunday, Oct. 29.

“I want people to arrive and say, ‘Wow,’ ” Cubiñá says during a recent tour of the museum. “I’m still looking around now, checking for any imperfections. It’s been a long time coming.”

The transformation of the Bass’ 1936 art deco home, which became a museum in 1964, added 4,000 square feet of gallery space, a cavernous lobby, a cafe and a more inviting experience for Bass visitors, Cubiñá says. The expansion, designed by New York architect David Gauld with help from Tokyo architect Arata Isozaki, preserves the Bass’ original Florida keystone exterior and interior columns while doubling its exhibition space.

Gone is the lobby’s winding, space-hogging keystone ramp, replaced with airy hallways. These hallways branch off into classrooms, a pair of gallery spaces and a sunlit courtyard, a glassed-in multipurpose room with a 30-foot-high ceiling that replaces the Bass’ old patio. The museum’s old education center is also bigger, with more classrooms and a conference room that doubles as a theater. In expanding the museum, Cubiñá says, adding a courtyard proved tricky, and exposing the 80-year-old piping of the Bass delayed its re-opening from Miami Art Week in December 2016 until now.

“We wanted to protect the art and the art deco architecture,” Cubiñá says. “But what’s also important is our international contemporary art. We live in an international city, and if you’re going to start a conversation with a local audience, you have to broaden everyone’s horizons.”

This perhaps explains the assembly of 30 clowns lounging around the Bass’ upstairs gallery. Dressed in polka-dot vests, old-timey bowler hats, multicolored fringe and gallons of white greasepaint, these life-size clown sculptures are part of Switzerland-based artist Ugo Rondinone’s “Good Evening Beautiful Blue,” another Bass exhibit opening Oct. 29. (A third self-titled solo exhibit by Mika Rottenberg will open Dec. 7, coinciding with Miami Art Week.)

The installation, titled “Vocabulary of Solitude,” fills the rectangular room with clowns doing various activities — sitting, sleeping, daydreaming, running — which represent “the mundane activities” that human beings do every day, according to wall text. A side gallery offers a six-video installation with a paragraph-size title, depicting slow-motion loops of people gazing out windows and other activities over a recording of Swell's 1997 alt-rock song “Sunshine Everyday.”

The Bass isn’t the only major art museum reopening this year. Next up is the Institute of Contemporary Art’s new building in Miami’s Design District, and its Dec. 1 debut will also coincide with Miami Art Week.

The Bass Museum of Art will reopen to the public Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2100 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach, with the exhibitions “Ugo Rondinone: Good Evening Beautiful Blue” (through Feb. 19) and “Pascale Marthine Tayou: Beautiful” (through April 2). Admission is free Oct. 29, and $5-$10 thereafter. Call 305-673-7530 or go to TheBass.org.

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