An Art-World Trickster Turns Earnest at the Bass

March 10, 2014 | by brett sokol | Pursuits

Piotr Uklański ditches conceptualism for a more heartfelt approach.

Piotr Uklariski's Untitled (Corpus Christ), 2013Piotr Uklariski's Untitled (Corpus Christ), 2013

Over the past two decades, the Polish-born, New York-based artist Piotr Uklański has built a well-deserved reputation as a mischievous conceptualist. He’s fashioned work that has riffed wryly on everything from the intersection of celebrity and porn to Hollywood’s portrayal of Nazis. But don’t look for any of those notorious pieces in “ESL,” Uklański’s current show at the Bass Museum of Art.

“Were we going to give people what they were expecting, which were The Nazis, or were we going to explore another chapter?” recalls Bass Executive Director and Chief Curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá of her initial conversations with Uklański. “It became very clear that he wanted to move forward.” Indeed, there’s little in the way of detached irony on display in “ESL.” Instead, Uklański has taken over the entire second floor of the Bass to create a sprawling homage to the titans of American modernism. Of course, that loving spirit is still filtered through his own playful sensibility: Eye-popping tie-dye is used for a hippie update of Jasper John’s spin on the American flag; carefully torn paper strips are inventively layered to evoke the visceral punch of Adolph Gottlieb’s starbursts.

The end result is proof that Uklański is as interested in traditional aesthetics as in cultural provocation. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” explains Cubiñá. “But this was something he really felt he needed to do, to explore the formal qualities of his work. It was Abstract Expressionism but also craft.” “ESL” is on exhibit through March 16 at the Bass Museum of Art, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-7530

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF MASSIMI DE CARLO GALLERY MILAN-LONDON/EPW STUDIO/MARIS HUTCHINSON, 2013

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