Miami Museums' Art Basel Offerings Headlined by Boundary-Pushing Artists

The plight of Ai Weiwei raised an international stink after he was detained in a Chinese jail for his politically freighted artwork and criticism of his government in 2011. Now he's headlining the new Pérez Art Museum Miami's opening exhibits. (See page 18.) But he's not the only controversial name to be showcased in a local museum during Art Basel this year.

Piotr Uklanski, who takes his solo exhibit to the Bass Museum of Art, and Tracey Emin, who marks her first solo U.S. show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami this week, are both talents who are no strangers to raising the eyebrows of art lovers everywhere.

At the Bass, Uklanski's "ESL" showcases works from his wide-ranging practice, which includes sculpture, painting, photography, performance, and film. The title of the show speaks to a South Florida audience, says museum executive director and chief curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá. It references "the sociopolitical relevance of an exhibition [called] 'ESL' (English as a second language) in a city such as Miami."

Uklanski, a Polish artist, first earned notoriety when his series Untitled (The Nazis) nearly caused a riot when it was exhibited in the Photographers' Gallery in London in 1998. But at the Bass, the polemic vibe at the core of his earlier works has been decidedly toned down. Instead, viewers can expect an exhibit that showcases the artist's uneasy relationship with the American Dream and immigrant status.

"Piotr Uklanski's exhibition is centered on a single tie-dyed painting of an American flag," Cubiñá explains. "The exhibition unfolds in a series of rooms, containing paintings, sculptures, and site-specific murals that are at once formal and conceptual, appropriating 1960s and '70s tie dye, art historical references, and pop imagery."

Cubiñá adds that craft will also play a major role in Uklanski's eclectic showcase and that the exhibit's conceptual theme will speak to our larger community: "In one instance, a giant eyeball made of fabric and textile, dangling from its blue-and-red nerve endings, holds its own in a large space."

Emin's "Angel Without You" opens the same night at MOCA and boasts more than 60 works spanning the past two decades of her production. It's the final exhibit at MOCA to be curated by the museum's former director, Bonnie Clearwater. The sprawling show cribs its title from the large-scale neon piece Emin made specially for MOCA's courtyard for the exhibit.

Emin became famous in 1997 when she exhibited Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, a tent appliquéd with names, at an exhibit held at London's Royal Academy. She was later nominated for Britain's prestigious Turner Prize in 1999 after exhibiting an installation titled My Bed, consisting of her own unmade dirty bed covered with used condoms and blood-stained underwear.

At MOCA, the focus will shift from starkly personal depictions of the British artist's life, instead landing on her use of neon, an important material in her practice, which began with her iconic The Tracey Emin Museum (1995).

MOCA and Emin have a long-standing relationship that dates back to the museum's 1998 acquisition of her film Why I Never Became a Dancer — the first of the artist's works to be purchased by an American museum. That relationship is now blossoming as Emin returns to North Miami for her first U.S. solo show at a museum.

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus