Spotlight: A Look at the Bass Museum of Art's Art History Lab

Within the Kaiser and Kosh Family Gallery at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, Florida, visitors are transported to various time periods through the salon-style arrangement of a selection of artworks. This room houses the museum's ongoing installation, the Art History Lab. The Art History Lab is meant to educate visitors on the methods and movements of art history, allowing visitors to compare and contrast the different styles and subject matters of the museum's collection. Traditional genres such as landscape, portraiture, and still life are represented, along with far-reaching subject matters ranging from mortality to religion. The Art History Lab is intended as a site of discovery and exploration for visitors, so that they can create more visual and thematic connections between works of art in the Bass collection. The arrangement and selection of works within the lab are continually changing, with the goal of providing access to a broad spectrum of mediums and themes to visitors both casual and frequent.

Art History Lab at the Bass Museum of Art Art History Lab at the Bass Museum of Art

The museum’s mission is to educate visitors by exploring connections between historical collections and contemporary art. In keeping with this mission, the Art History Lab aims to illustrate the origins of contemporary art - how themes and subject matters came to be, and how they have been translated for modern audiences. The museum is able to draw from its own origins in presenting these evolutions: while the museum's founding collection consisted of 500 works of primarily European Old Master paintings, textiles and religious sculptures, today the museum houses over 3,000 works, including paintings ranging from the 15th century to the present; 7th- to 20th-century textiles, tapestries and ecclesiastical vestments; 20th- and 21st-century American, Asian, and Caribbean art; photographs, prints, and drawings; and modern and contemporary architecture and design. The museum also focuses on the pre- and postwar design history of Miami Beach. All of this has developed and grown within a relatively short timeframe, as this year marks just the 50th anniversary of the founding of the museum.

From this broad collection, the works within the Art History Lab are selected by the museum's curators, who focus on representing different time periods, cultures, and art historical genres in their selections. The walls of the Art History Lab often house combinations rarely seen elsewhere in the museum, such as an Egyptian mummy placed next to a Haitian painting. These combinations frequently suggest particular narratives or themes, highlighting connections and concepts within a setting that allows one to move through space and time within a single room. This distinctive setting also allows visitors to notice how art iconography and themes in art are often reoccurring, extending into contemporary art from a rich lineage – an elegant link back to the museum’s mission.

While the general public is the museum's target audience for this installation, the Art History Lab also serves as a valuable resource for the museum's younger audiences. The lab intersects with education in multiple ways; it simultaneously can serve as an introduction to art for the museum's youngest visitors and can be used in combination with art history classes and textbooks for older students. The arrangement of the room, which mirrors the manner in which art was originally presented in salons and similar environments, also serves as a visual aid in understanding art. With this innovative combination of a traditional display setting and surprising, wide-ranging content, the Art History Lab has proved to be quite successful in terms of visitor feedback, expanding the museum's teaching capabilities, and providing access to both the breadth and depth of art history.

Keah Fryar is the Plinth contributor for the Eastern Region and a Freelance Exhibit Designer and Consultant.  Her website can be viewed here: https:// cargocollective.com/keahfryar.