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The Endless Renaissance at Bass Museum of Art


Pieter Hugo. Mallam Galadima Ahmadu with Jamis, Nigeria, 2005.

As we scramble to gather our thoughts concerning this weekends art walk we thought we would buy ourselves some time by reflecting on The Endless Renaissance, an exhibition courtesy of guest curator Steven Holmes that just closed (October 4th) at Bass Museum of Art…

The Endless Renaissance, which mixed up some of the museums pre-Modern specimens with examples of Contemporary Art drawn in many cases from local artists and collectors, was a great idea for a lot of reasons worth mentioning.

Although Miami has a relatively busy contemporary scene, it is, even for its modest size, uniquely short on art of the past. So the way in which Endless Renaissance at Bass uses the sparse, sometimes ‘school of…’ pieces held in their collection to connect the dots to Contemporary Art is very useful.

That the Bass’s original permanent collection was formed locally seems to have been a cue to use local artists and holdings from local collectors, primarily Martin Margulies, Craig Robbins and the Scholls. As such the show was about past and present local collecting, as well as the evolution and recurrence of subject matter and themes. There was a lot that was fun, complex, simplistic, and instructive, (and maybe even a bit pedantic too).


Wim Delvoye. Caterpillar Scale Model Number 5. Laser-cut Cor-ten (TM) steel.

The first piece one came across in the show was is a scale model of a caterpillar earth mover that seemed to suggest a complexity to the idea of ever-blooming Renaissance, and to hint at the way artistic movements recur and re-invent references to the past while inevitably defining what is specifically different about the ‘new’ renaissance.

The piece was an intricate Gothicism of the truck and caterpillar digitally cut from stainless steel. This contradictory use of a modern material, a highly contemporary cutting technique used to depict an early modern earth moving machine, is rendered in delicate decoration that actually recalls the neo-gothic cast-iron tracery characteristic of 19th century Gothic-Revival more readily than the structurally significant true Gothic style of the late Middle Ages.

The artist in question was Wim Delvoye – you might have seen his tattooed pigs – and his work was a great example of the circularity of historical reference and the ambiguity it suggests with regard to the reassuring idea of Social Progress. (Read also artistic, philosophical, and intellectual progress). Is there progress if we keep repeating ourselves? Or is the aesthetic re-referencing of past forms (and in this case the past re-referencing of late 19th century Gothic Revival) when applied to a sculpture of something that was ‘modern’ a century ago an outright rejection of that idea, or merely of the past itself?

The Endless Renaissance installation view.

The next two pieces one came across, by Bert Rodriguez  and Thierry Delva, both referenced Michelangelo’s ‘David’, but in very different ways.

Rodriguez’s badly marbleized store mannequin bearing the artist’s own visage complete with Gucci glasses clearly referenced the way the commercialization of art degrades it, the ‘celebrification’ of the artist, and in general a degradation of the idealized humanism of Classical and neo-Classical cultural periods compared with the one we’re enduring now.

Delva’s piece on the other hand, a plugged in refrigerator with a carrera marble refrigerator magnet of a silhouette of ‘David’. Inside the fridge  (which visitors were deliciously allowed to open) were a dozen carrera marble eggs in an egg crate – a rather funny postscript on the famous icon of youthful male virility from the Florentine Renaissance.

Francisco Goya. Courtesy of The Craig Robins Collection.

Close by a series from the Craig Robins Collection, of several of the ‘Fatal Consequences of the Bloody War With Bonaparte in Spain’, represented an early example of political and humanitarian content in art: Francisco Goya detailed horrific atrocities during Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

Here one thinks of Picasso’s Guernica – a modern condemnation of war – of Caravaggio’s (then) outrageous depictions of simpering over-sexed boys with flower garlands in their hair, nibbling at fruit, wherein the artist lambasted the juxtaposition of a new bourgeois interest in Classical culture alongside a puritanical Papal moral code.

There were many more obvious comparisons; Gregory Crewson’s quasi-narrative photos with the narrative and Allegorical paintings of mythological scenes from (Bass Collection holdings) the studio of Pieter Paul Rubens, and the lateral wall full of photos of contemporary African potentates by contemporary photographer Pieter Hugo.


The Endless Renaissance installation view. Photograph by Brett Hufziger.

The ultra macho African chieftains with their predatory pet hyenas struck rather more macho poses than the effete portraits of 18th century European aristocrats. The juxtaposition of these works highlighted the way references to absolute, totalitarian power may be presented in different, even apparently benign forms.


Kelly Mark. The Kiss, 2007. 2 Channel DVD sculpture: 15 minute loop, color, silent, 22″ x 55″ x 14″, NFS.

And finally, Kelly Mark’s pair of joined TV’s where the caption explains that the screens that block access to each other are projecting Gay porn is an interestingly acute reminder that old art, and new art alike can be obtusely difficult to access unless the viewer can stand in the same reference point as the artist and the precise subject of his work. It also seemed an odd reminder that not all art, back then and to this day, may necessarily be meant for everybody.

There was of course a lot more to the show that evidenced the reciprocal tendencies of art’s themes than can be credited without listing – Peter Friedl’s Tiger oder Löwe, a physical interpretation of Delacroix’s Tiger and Snake alongside the (‘school of’) Pieter Paul Rubens allegorical painting; Huang Yong Ping’s spectacular vessel jars filled with superbly taxidermied animals suggestive of stuffed specimens of 19th century ‘museums’ and the endless exercise of the cataloging and control over nature that civilizations past and present have tried to exert – but ultimately the show went beyond simply reminding viewers that periods of artistic flowering don’t only recur, but that in their recurrence the many themes of political and economic power, social protest, elitism and dominance over nature, are also revisited, and while contrasting interpretations occasionally evidence shifts, these themes are generally galvanized, by virtue of their relevance, as maxims of human existence[.]

This post was contributed by David Rohn.

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The Endless Renaissance at Bass Museum of Art