Hernan Bas Didn't Paint the Works in His Show at The Bass. His Alter Egos Did.


“I already know what the headlines will be: Bas at The Bass,” jokes Miami-based artist Hernan Bas as he prepares the final works for his solo show, “The Conceptualists,” opening Dec. 4 at his hometown museum. “It’s fitting though,” he admits. “The show is a play on conceptual art, so I don’t mind a pun.” 

Known for his expressionistic paintings of androgynous young men, Bas has often embraced the double entendre. “The Conceptualists” expands on his interest in queerness, desire, the occult, and the absurd, but does so through the creation of fictitious conceptual artists who engage in eccentric behavior as part of their practices.


Bas began the series over two years ago, debuting the works in two parts: the first at Victoria Miro in London and the second at Lehmann Maupin in New York. The Bass exhibition marks the series’ debut as an ensemble, and will be joined by seven new “Conceptualist” pieces making their debut—including Bas’s largest painting yet, measuring 9 by 21 feet. 

“‘The Conceptualists’ stems from a series loosely based on the hobbies that emerged in the pandemic,” the artist explains. “Everyone was doing things they didn’t normally do, like baking bread. I started making characters doing bizarre things and called them conceptual artists as a way to excuse their behavior and to poke fun at art itself—conceptual art is always the butt of jokes. 

Hernan Bas, Conceptual artist #19 (A child of the 80's, he places his Polaroid self-portraits in a familiar spot whenever he's feeling lost), 2023. Photography by Silvia Ros. Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin.

“It also gave me the opportunity to make conceptual art, but not have it be my own,” he says. “So if you don’t like the work in the painting, it’s not mine.” With the pressure of authorship removed, Bas had the freedom to develop work that he wouldn't ordinarily consider putting his name on. 

In one piece, a fictitious artist sits in the milk aisle of a grocery store with a Polaroid camera. In a nod to the old practice of depicting missing children on milk cartons, the subject leaves photographs of himself in public places when he feels lost. In another, a sculptor whose medium is popsicle sticks is so devoted to his craft that he insists on eating the popsicles instead of buying the sticks clean. The title states that he is in the process of making his “inevitable last work”: a coffin. 


“They’re sad and morbid pieces, but I don’t want viewers to take them too seriously,” says Bas. “Humor is an important part of my work, even if it’s subtle. Looking back at the series, there are a lot of paintings that spark discomfort. I hadn’t realized that before, and I’m not sure what it says about me,” he adds, laughing.

Bas insists his subjects are not self-portraits, but acknowledges that their interests sometimes mirror his own. They also, intentionally or not, parallel his practice. The exhibition culminates with his largest work to date—a panorama of an artist’s studio based on Bas’s own.

Hernan Bas, Conceptual artist #23 (Popsicle stick sculptor; a purist, he consumes his materials in devotion to his craft, leading to his inevitable last work), 2023. Photography by Silvia Ros. Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin.

The work, which contains references to the other paintings in the show, “is a very important piece for the series,” he says. “It’s a Wizard of Oz moment where the emerald curtain parts, and the viewer realizes that this character has painted all of the other works.”

The subject in this final piece surveys his own creations as if organizing his own exhibition—the very experience Bas is having now. “I don’t like the word,” he admits, “but I guess the show is a little meta.”

"The Conceptualists" is on view through May 5, 2024 at The Bass in Miami Beach.