Spared by Hurricane Irma, Miami’s Bass Museum Reopens After a $12 Million Overhaul
The museum managed to increase exhibition space without altering its footprint.
After two years and a transformative $12 million overhaul—capped by a nerve-wracking visit from Hurricane Irma—Miami’s Bass Museum re-opened to the public this weekend with a roomier layout, new galleries, and immersive installations by contemporary art stars Ugo Rondinone and Pascale Marthine Tayou.
The renovation posed a complex technical puzzle. Architects David Gauld and Arata Isozaki sought to increase the building’s programmable space by nearly 50 percent—without altering its existing footprint. The surgical solution, which involved removing a ramp and enclosing existing courtyards, added much-needed space while keeping operating costs under control and adhering to Miami Beach’s strict codes on historic buildings.
“We always set out to build within the footprint because we wanted it to be financially sustainable,” the museum’s executive director and chief curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá told artnet News. The new Bass boasts four new galleries, a museum store, a cafe, and designated education facility.
The Bass was founded in 1964 by the city of Miami Beach with a founding collection donated by locals John and Johanna Bass. It opened in the former Miami Beach public library, a 1930s Art Deco building. The latest overhaul is the first major renovation since the museum added a new wing and second level in 2001. With its growing audience, Cubiñá says, the Bass quickly realized “our visitor experience was not up to par with what we wanted it to be.”
The opening exhibitions seek “to show the diversity of Miami Beach,” according to Cubiñá. Among them are “good evening beautiful blue” by the Swiss artist Rondinone (through February 19), which includes a surreal installation of life-size clown sculptures, and “Beautiful” by Cameroon-born and Belgium-based artist Tayou (though April 2), which boasts a wall of LED screens that say “welcome” in more than 70 languages.
The Bass is also presenting new contemporary acquisitions and gifts, including works by Allora & Calzadilla, Dara Birnbaum, Abraham Cruzvillegas, John Giorno, Sterling Ruby, and James Turrell.
After what has been an extraordinarily active hurricane season, the Bass delayed its official opening by a few weeks “out of respect for the community,” says Cubiñá. (The opening was originally scheduled for last fall, but was pushed back to this fall due to construction complications.)
Between hurricanes that affected Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquake in Mexico, “we felt like it was like a triple hit,” Cubiñá says. “So many people from our community were affected.”
The museum itself is one of the lucky ones, having experienced no damage. But Cubiñá recalls a memorable conversation ahead of the storm with the museum’s engineer, who installed Sylvie Fleury’s neon sculpture Eternity Now on the Bass’s facade.
“I called our engineer and asked, ‘What do you think?'” Cubiñá says. “He said, ‘I engineered for 145 mile-per-hour [winds]. I don’t think engineering even exists to work with 180 mph winds.” The sculpture was temporarily de-installed and stored for safety; it has since been returned to its prominent position greeting visitors.
See more images of the refreshed and newly reopened Bass below.
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