French artist Jérémy Gobé is sitting on a bench surrounding by his red-and-white quilted installation, which covers the walls of the small gallery that is the temporary home to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach while it undergoes renovation, and is situated across the street in the public library.
The wood and wool artwork protrudes and recedes in certain places, so that it does look like a blanket that has been thrown over the room and the windows, and the visitor is allowed to touch the soft, stretched quilt. Even bounce against it.
It is the latest in a series of solo shows called bassX, which will highlight international and locals artists throughout the year.
Gobé works with natural objects and materials, sometimes referencing a craft, in this case knitting. He got the wool from a now-closed factory in France. He says that when the exhibit ends, the hand-made quilt will stay here in Miami, maybe going to a homeless shelter to really be used as blankets. He says that because his art evolves from an organic process, he likes it to return to nature — or man.
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The exhibit titled “Freedom Leading Wool” also harkens to his homeland’s artistic history, in particular the famous 1830 painting from Eugene Delacroix of Lady Liberty holding the tricolor flag — red, white and blue and leading the troops, titled Liberty Leading the People. There are no figures in Gobé’s rendition, but there is a swirling, engulfing quality that the classic painting also evokes.
In neighboring storefront windows in a Walgreens on Collins Avenue, Gobé also made pieces that directly reflected his short stint here in Miami. He stayed at the Fountainhead Residency in the Upper East Side of Miami, on a beautiful street filled with tropical foliage and flora. It was Gobé’s first trip not only to Miami but to the United States. One day, in what he calls “having a residency in a garden,” he was hit on the head by a coconut. What resulted was this storefront exhibit, Nature’s Imagination Scares Me.
“Nature is the best artist I’ve ever seen,” he says. “But it frightens me.” He said the accident also made him think of Isaac Newton — except that Gobé’s path of discovery was spurred by a much harder fruit than Newton’s famous apple. So, one of the sculptures is made from coconuts. “Natural materials have the best relationship to us,” he says.
As for his experience overall, the Parisian says it was fascinating to observe — and soak up — such a new city. Where he comes from, he says, the cities were built and planned hundreds and even thousands of year ago; the structures often change little. “I really haven’t experienced a place like this that’s still finding its identity. I am so interested to see what it will be like in 10 years.”
The pliable cloth sculpture that Gobé has covered the library annex in might reflect the constantly changing ground he experienced during his stay. In what could be a slight nod to the history that Miami does have, Gobé wrapped an outside pillar in front of the library with his red-and-white wool — a la Christo and his surrounded pink islands.
Up next in the bassX series will be a performance piece from South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga, a new version of his 2010 The Future White Women of Azania. He uses varied materials, including balloons, combined with dancers, video, photography and music.
Azania was an ancient Greek name for the southern part of Africa, but today is a word used to describe a black paradise, or a hybrid one. Jose Carlos Diaz, the Bass curator of exhibitions who has organized the bassX programming, described Ruga’s unique performances and costuming as “using a highly refined aesthetic, his performances, textiles and photography explore the concepts of utopia, and its counterpart dystopia.”
On the façade of the Bass is yet another piece in the diverse series, which also could be related to the kinetic nature of Miami. Geneva, Switzerland-based Sylvie Fleury is the most famous of the artists invited to keep the Bass in the eyes of the world during its renovation closure. Her work, found in major collections in the United States and Europe, is conceptual, involving neon, bronze and other mixed media works, often with text that comments on pop culture or luxury branding. Fleury’s huge site-specific turquoise neon sign fits in perfectly on South Beach, and like Gobé, might also question the permanent nature of Miami. Across the front of the building, in all glowing, capital letters, her sign demands “ETERNITY NOW.” It’s up through May — an eternity, here in South Florida.
The series continues in a similar vein in March with “Art & Sole,” a commentary on haute couture and culture. This will highlight “fantasy” shoes from the Stuart Weitzman Collection. The luxury shoe store headquartered on Madison Avenue has commissioned footwear from artists and designers — examples of some of the most creative and elaborate to be exhibited in the library space. It fits in with the collection and history of the Bass, which has presented a number of design- and fashion-related exhibits.
Local artist Emmett Moore, who has made a name for himself with his furniture and architecturally based pieces, will take over in April.
The bassX programming kicked off in the fall with photography from New York artist Rachel Harrison. These precisely placed images — more than 50 — all hung at one level, designed to tell a story that fit each visitor’s imagination. Harrison has traveled the world taking pictures of iconic or other totem objects; for this show she titled the grouping Voyage of the Beagle Two, which refers to Charles Darwin’s 19th century explorations aboard the HMS Beagle. It was a great inauguration for a corner of a place of learning, a library, that has temporarily become an art gallery. Another iteration of Harrison’s photographic journey is currently hanging in the Rubell Family Collection’s all-women exhibit “No Man’s Land.”
BassX has turned out to be a creative way to continue a presence in the art scene, while exploring new spaces and ways to reach a public. For instance, as Silvia Karman Cubiña, Bass executive director and chief curator, points out, an entirely different audience, including many children, have been exposed to contemporary art in the library, where the museum has also held some family days.
While the museum will reopen, likely before next December, the idea of bringing art out of those institutional confines to a broader world is one that needs to continue.
bassX exhibitions and programs
When: Through Feb. 28.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 22.
When: March 8-April 10.
Where: Miami Beach Regional Library, 227 22nd St., Miami Beach.
Info: Free; www.bassmuseum.org.