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At MOCA, one good turn deserves another

If Hernan Bas' new painting and donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami resembles the book jacket of a 1950s "Hardy Boys" mystery, well, only part of that is what he considers a "happy accident." The other part is a weird coincidence. In February, the 34-year-old painter started thinking about his first solo show: 2002's "It's Super Natural," which opened at MOCA and featured Bas' earliest expressionistic works, each steeped in nostalgia and homoeroticism. Then, he ran into the museum's executive director, Bonnie Clearwater.

"That painting I was going to keep for myself," says Bas, a former resident of Miami, speaking from his home in New York. "I went to this art show in New York last weekend, and there Bonnie was. She didn't ask me to donate a piece. It's not her style or mine to ask. But I gave it to her for the show."

That show is "Pivot Points: 15 Years and Counting," a retrospective chronicling the museum's history of provocative exhibitions. More than 50 works were donated for the show, which opened Thursday and continues through May 19. The pieces were culled from private collectors and a cross-section of artists who have previously exhibited at the museum.

For the occasion, Bas gave Clearwater the painting "Dearest Margaret, With the Exception of Paul's Complexion the Expedition Is Going Well As Planned ... , 2013," a raw linen work depicting two boys resting among foliage-covered rocks. One of the boy's faces is tinted a zombielike green, an accident that began when Bas oversaturated one of the pigments.

"At first, I thought the painting had gone wrong. But then, I realized it was obvious and fun, and I imagined the title was about a character writing a telegraph letter to a boy in the 1890s, and they're on some Amazonian safari," Bas says. "It reminds me of going to New York and seeing Matisse for the first time, and the freedoms I didn't allow myself before. The painting's a tribute to [Bonnie], because Bonnie's trust and guidance and support for my first show was the reason I'm here now."

A majority of the "Pivot Points" show features outsize paintings and installations from Rick Ulysse, Rita Ackermann, Hernan Bas, Ragnar Kjartansson and Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Miami artist Mark Handforth's "Electric Tree," on display three blocks away at North Miami's Griffing Park, features neon fluorescent fixtures lighting up the canopy of a banyan tree. Meanwhile, an installation by New York-based art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus will transform an entire room of the museum into a pop-psychedelic mural of flowers, a spiral staircase and figures posing in strange, suggestive positions.

"The artists who have donated realized that MOCA was pivotal in their careers, and we gave them exhibits early in their careers," Clearwater says. "It took two years to put together the show, and a lot of the artists now have huge international careers. They're a part of our history and legacy, and by giving works, it shows they want to have a continuous presence at the museum."

Pivot Points: 15 Years and Counting

When: Through May 19

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 NE 125th St.

Cost: $3-$5

Contact: 305-893-6211 or

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