Lehmann Maupin presents The Conceptualists: Vol. II, an exhibition of new work by Hernan Bas. Marking the artist’s sixth solo presentation with the gallery, the exhibition is a continuation of Bas’s Conceptualists series started in 2021.
Bas is best known for his narratively rich scenes that feature a wide-range of references spanning art and literature, popular culture, kitsch, the occult, religion, and mythology. Across his works, Bas seeks to defamiliarize everyday experience through humor, revealing the surreal and absurd lurking beneath the mundane. In the Conceptualists series, Bas marries his personal appreciation of conceptual artists with his ongoing exploration of eccentricity. Whereas a number of prior works by the artist depict figures known as “enthusiasts” engaged in esoteric habits, this body of work reimagines absurdity and obsession as foundations of artistic practice.
Each work in Bas’s Conceptualists series depicts a fictive conceptual artist enraptured by his eccentric creative pursuits. In Conceptual artist #22 (The sole source for his prized homemade pulp paper is vintage Pulp Fiction), Bas envisions an artist who makes paper from Harlequin romance novels (turning one form of pulp into another), while in Conceptual artist #18 (Spirited by a passion for urban legends, he fabricates roadside memorials from which to hitchhike from), Bas imagines a performance-based artist who erects fake road-side memorials and hitch-hikes from one to another.
At the heart of the series lies a productive tension between conceptual and representational forms of artmaking. Whereas Bas’s fictive artists create thoroughly idea-based, propositional works that perhaps can be expressed by their titles alone, Bas’s own paintings remain invested in the art object and reward close looking. And while he depicts artists engaged in fervently conceptual practices, Bas’s compositions summon a wide range of art historical references that lurk in collective consciousness and popular imagination. Conceptual artist #17 (With the aid of scissors, paper doilies and origami he elevates lily ponds to attract potential princes) might call to mind Claude Monet’s waterlilies, while Conceptual artist #16 (Performance based; the founder and reigning champion of a weekly pillow fight tournament) evokes American Realist painter George Bellows’s canonical boxing scenes. In the latter, Bas undermines this traditional theater of masculinity, and in the place of a boxing match he depicts two male figures engaged in a pillow fight. A space of intimacy becomes a sporting arena; in lieu of a boxing ring, Bas depicts a mattress and bedframe lined with red ribbon bows. Indeed, Bas’s practice is characterized by the frequent convergence of the private and public realms, and he often reformulates masculine tropes repeated throughout art history to give way to queer interpretations.
Throughout The Conceptualists, art haunts everyday existence. Conceptual artist #19 (A child of the 80’s, he places his Polaroid self portraits in a familiar spot whenever he’s feeling lost), contains a number of subtle references to Andy Warhol. The many milk cartons—which Bas has silkscreened onto the canvas—recall Warhol’s silkscreens of mass-produced goods (such as soup cans and soda bottles), while the Polaroid camera in the subject’s hands evokes his iconic Polaroid images. Perhaps the work’s most emphatic homage can be seen in the figure’s socks, where a pattern of skulls references Warhol’s early Death and Disaster series. Here and across this larger body of work, Bas’s sensitivity to art history results not in an insular investigation of artmaking, but rather in an expansive consideration of art’s capacity to permeate the collective cultural imagination.
Hernan Bas (b. 1978, Miami, FL, lives and works in Miami, FL) creates paintings, works on paper, videos, and installations that weave together adolescent adventures with classical poetry, religious stories, mythology, the paranormal, and literature. Influenced by the Romantic era of the 18th century that glorified the sublime beauty of nature and the Decadent movement of the 19th century that evoked romantic nihilism, skepticism, excess, and artificiality, Bas’ early work often portrayed nearly hidden adolescent male figures, deep in contemplation amidst vast otherworldly landscapes. As the figure and the interiors they occupied became more and more prominent throughout Bas’ work, so did the social and cultural context within which they were living. Spanning a wide range of time periods and themes, Bas investigates inquisition, desire, and obsessions and invites the viewer to recognize their own curiosities and oddities.