Figurative form altogether disappears in the next space, and so too does the clear connection to a Renaissance art history. But London-born Walead Beshty’s abstract, conceptually complex pieces are a highlight. There is a lot about process here. For instance, his copper panel sculptures are installed without gloves, leaving smudge marks all over them. The white “paintings” have a similar quality and look dirty from a distance, but the more you study them, the more interesting they become. His FedEx boxes also record a process, a journey, that has not changed much since the time of Michelangelo: artwork has always been shipped, bought, resold, ending up in a time and a place far removed from its origin.
Han-Peter Feldman and Ged Quinn’s paintings are a complete departure that can be difficult to digest. Liverpool native Quinn’s surreal allegorical paintings are in vogue across Europe. Scenes set in Romantic-era forests might include a bubble house, historical figures, a bleeding martyr or a crucified cat. The link to art history is overt here, intentionally over-the-top, but they aren’t to everyone’s taste.
You’ll need to take some time to figure out all that is going on in three large video screens that make up The Annunciation, from Finland’s Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Like the video on the ground floor, this is special for its simplicity of its everyday “characters.” Of course, the annunciation is one of the most depicted scenes in art since the dawn of Christianity, the gospel of how the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her child will be the son of God. Here on screen it is reenacted in a studio by some friends (not actors). They too look at classic paintings and discuss them — how much did the angel really scare Mary? — along with talk of why donkeys are wondering around Finland (“don’t they belong in warm countries?” one asks).
The Bass came up with a nice mix of styles and forms for this exhibit, from some important artists on the world stage today. It might be hard for the viewer to keep up with the Endless Renaissance thread; each room feels like its own show, and, in fact, they are described as six solo projects. That’s OK. In fact, when exhibits try and force a theme, lead an audience down one path, it often doesn’t work. These speak for themselves, individually, and out of the broad scope of the artists’ work, you can take away what you want.