Miami nice: The Bass art museum reveals new look after a two-year revamp

Miami nice: The Bass art museum reveals new look after a two-year revamp

Miami Beach’s museum of contemporary art, The Bass is set to emerge from a $12 million refit tomorrow. Architects David Gauld and Arata Isozaki, who both worked on the extension of the museum 16 years ago, spearheaded the renovation, which broke ground in 2015. A significant reconfiguration of the building’s internal structure has resulted in a near 50 per cent increase in programmable space, including four new galleries, a museum store, a café catered by Thierry Isambert, and a dedicated education facility.

The museum was established in 1964 by the City of Miami Beach after the donation of a private collection by residents John and Johanna Bass. It opened in a 1930s art deco building – formerly the Miami Beach Public Library and Art Center – designed by Russell Pancoast, and was also once the first public exhibition space for art in South Florida. In 2001, the museum underwent its first major expansion led by Isozaki and his firm, who added a new wing and second level to house a total of 16,000 sq ft of exhibition space.

The historic 1930s building was designed by Russell Pancoast. Photography: Robin Hill. Courtesy of The Bass, Miami Beach

‘From the beginning, one of the most important values of this construction project was that we needed to be in the same footprint – [the museum] had to be sustainable once we opened,’ says Silvia Karman Cubiñá, director of The Bass museum. In addition to the new galleries, a pair of outdoor terraces – were unusable for most of the year due to Miami’s heat – are now roofed. The rear of the museum, meanwhile, was readapted into the Creativity Center, with classrooms and a meeting room now open to the community.

Gauld’s greatest challenge, he explained, was to remain respectful of his mentor Isozaki’s design while catering to museum’s needs. ‘[Isozaki] is very philosophical about that,’ New York-based Gauld told us at a preview of the new space. ‘When Isozaki would design a building, he would draw it as a ruin afterwards, in anticipation that not only would it be changed but it would also be destroyed afterwards.’ With the 86-year-old Japanese architect’s blessing, Gauld set to work, most notably stripping out a large ramp in the lobby from Isozaki’s design and replacing it with a new staircase that ‘rationalised the circulation’.

While much the space sparkles with modern fittings and furnishings, Gauld has remained respectful of his predecessors Pancoast and Isozaki, using materials that preserve the aesthetic of the building. The museum consulted with Miami’s Historic Preservation Board, with Cubiñá admitting she was grateful for the restrictions imposed on the design. The circular lighting in the new courtyard areas nods to the art deco heritage of Miami, while new walls erected in Florida keystone circle back to the building’s original design.

Gauld worked with New York studio Project-Space, a New York-based studio founded by Jonathan Caplan, to design the interiors for The Bass’ public spaces. ‘There were essentially two components to [my] brief: firstly to create a fluent, harmonious relationship between the gallery area and the multi-purpose spaces leading to and from it,’ explains Caplan, ‘and secondly to allow these separate spaces to each have a discrete identity and dynamic of their own.’

Installation view of Pascale Marthine Tayou’s exhibition ‘Beautiful’. Photography: Zachary Balber. Courtesy of The Bass, Miami Beach

Caplan argues that the importance of these spaces are often overlooked or underestimated. ‘This can sometimes result in such spaces, and by association the museum as a whole, becoming mundane, off-putting – at worst a dead-zone,’ says Caplan. ‘We wanted to not just minimise, but reverse this, because these spaces are not only the first and last impressions a museum gives to the visitor, but in this case they are also spatially at the centre of the museum.’ Cubiñá agrees that the new interiors have made the lobby more ‘porous’, drawing visitors into the museum.

Upstairs, Ugo Rondinone has taken over the entire of the newly designed second floor with ‘good evening beautiful blue’, part of a major multi-institution retrospective comprising works that span three decades of the Swiss artist’s practice, from the late 1990s to the present. Rondinone is in good company for the museum’s reopening: Cameroon artist Pascale Marthine Tayou has remixed his own works with pieces from The Bass museum’s permanent collection in the ground-floor gallery. Additionally, a newly commissioned, site-specific work by Tayou called Welcome Wall (2015), comprising animated LED signs that read ‘welcome’ in over 70 languages, broadcasts a profound message of inclusion from the newly revamped museum’s lobby.