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MIAMI BEACH — In an apparent attempt to show more shiny baubles than all of the art fairs combined, the Bass Museum of Art last week opened One Way: Peter Marino, a perversely perfect complement to its other major exhibition, GOLD. Taken in tandem, the exhibitions are a powerful one-two punch of gold leaf–thin conceptualism and staggeringly tasteless narcissism. Their self-congratulatory tones go from just plain silly in the case of GOLD to downright offensive for One Way.
Installed on the Bass’s ground floor, GOLD brings together works by 24 artists “who physically or conceptually utilize gold in their practice,” as a promising bit of wall text proclaims. The show marks the museum’s 50th anniversary, which, as the royalists know, is called a golden jubilee. That’s the full extent of the conceptual alloy holding all this together.
Granted, there are pieces that, taken in isolation, are very compelling. Ebony G. Patterson’s sculpture “Shrubz” (2014) is a gilded and bedazzled re-creation of a photograph posted on social media of the scene of a fatal shooting in the artist’s native Jamaica. With its rhinestone-covered toy guns and young victim lying face down, the piece resonates powerfully with current events. Darío Escobar’s “Untitled (McDonald’s Cup)” (1999), a soda cup from the fast food chain that the artist has adorned with gold leaf and floral motifs from the Spanish Colonial era, traces connections between contemporary consumerism and the colonization of the Americas, devotional objects of centuries past and modern branding. But the exhibition’s lowest-common-denominator theme gives such interesting projects as much weight as it does to, say, Jim Hodges’s “The Good News/Al Arab Yawm, 8/6/2008” (2008–09), a piece of shiny and half-baked conceptual art that consists of a copy of the titular newspaper whose every page has been coated in 24-carat gold. I dread seeing Damien Hirst’s crystal-covered skull in 2024 for the inevitable sequel, DIAMOND.
Grim as things are downstairs in GOLD, they get much worse as you ascend a sloping walkway through the Bass Museum’s glass-walled atrium, which Marino — a designer, architect, and collector whose overarching aesthetic could be described as “leather bar modern” — has sheathed in strips of shiny black plastic. The first room on the second floor is a veritable house of horrors, not for the sleek and shiny punk-surgical works on view by the likes of Damien Hirst, Wim Delvoye, and Joel Morrison, but for the two walls jam-packed with large-format portrait photos of Marino — the culprits range from Alec Soth to the Billy Farell Agency — beneath which stands, naturally, a full-scale, hyperrealist wax sculpture of the man in his trademark black leather get-up. Is the Bass aiming to bring in bigger crowds by becoming the art world’s Madame Tussaud’s? Beyond this garish display, further abominations await: the exhibition’s central room touts Marino’s architecture and design oeuvre, which mostly consists of interiors for luxury brands’ flagship stores. A wall of 45 plasma screens streams images of his projects for a literal A-B-C of high-end fashion houses. Marino has pulled off a coup: he has turned the Bass Museum into a walk-through portfolio of his dubious achievements.
If you can detach your palm from your face and keep your head from shaking back and forth for just a few minutes, you’ll see that Marino’s tastes are, if nothing else, market-tested. The exhibition features an entire wall of Vik Muniz photographs, a room devoted to massive works by Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, pieces by Keith Haring, Christopher Wool, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Prince, Robert Ryman, Thomas Houseago, Tom Sachs, Andreas Gursky, Hirst, Warhol, and a lot of other male artists whose art sells for millions. Curator Jérôme Sans has crammed far too many works from Marino’s collection and complementary pieces from various lenders into a few small rooms, making for a show that, on the few occasions when its offensiveness subsides — a room pairing Mapplethorpe photos with Marino’s furniture designs is One Way’s most palatable — is grossly overstuffed. The exhibition’s only redeeming quality is that it makes GOLD look less flimsy by comparison. I sincerely hope that, in exchange for the use of the institution’s galleries, Marino gave the Bass Museum bucket-loads of gold.