Mark Bradford: From Los Angeles to China

Mark Bradford, He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes, 2019, Mixed media, Dimensions variable, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Mark Bradford, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Mark Bradford, Mithra, 2008, Mixed media, 726.4 x 1963.4 x 635 cm / 286 x 773 x 250 inches, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Mark Bradford, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
TOP
541
40
0
 
19
Aug
19
Aug
CoBo Social Chinese Abstraction Series

Seeking to explore the evolution of Mark Bradford’s artistic practice over the past decade, a new exhibition at Shanghai’s Long Museum—the Los Angeles-based artist’s largest exhibition to date in China—draws references to his hometown while also addressing larger themes of community and social injustices.

Text: Maya Kramer
Images: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Mark Bradford, He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes, 2019, Mixed media, Dimensions variable, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

Just what is it that makes Mark Bradford’s abstraction so different, so appealing?

In Western culture, Abstraction reached its zenith during Modernism. Then as technology advanced, new technologies that demonstrated the intricate workings of the unseen, such as radio waves and x-rays, inspired artists to create images that went beyond representation.  Disgust at the rampant materialism brought about by the Industrial Revolution and a desire for a new spirituality also spurred an interest in abstract forms. Similarly, hopes for a utopian future led artists to try and communicate to the masses using only elementary forms such as line, shape and color. In their minds these were the most direct and easily decipherable modes of expression.

Yet towards mid-20th century, with the unprecedented destruction of WWII, utopian dreams became indefensible. Additionally, as new media—in particular television—spread, it bathed the spectator’s vision in concrete and often banal imagery such that the lofty aspirations of the era of abstraction started to seem absurd. So much so, that of the most successful living contemporary artists in Europe and North America under the age of sixty, few superstars work in a primarily abstract vein. One standout exception to this is Mark Bradford. With his solo exhibition, “Los Angeles” now on view at the Long Museum, visitors can judge for themselves if Bradford is, as the exhibition curator Diana Nawi claims, “One of America’s most important living artists”. While I believe he is, the exhibition at Long Museum doesn’t make a convincing case and viewers may have to look elsewhere to glimpse his genius.

 

Mark Bradford, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

Before delving into the specifics of the show, it is interesting to reflect on what makes Bradford’s brand of abstraction so different and so appealing. Partly, the draw lies in how he updates the language of abstraction to address the most pressing issues of our time. Themes such as urbanization and mapping, the histories and enduring impacts of racism and colonialism, pop culture, and the degrading natural environment are all at different times built into his sprawling collages/décollages, sculptures, installations, and videos.

At Long Museum, it has become almost a ritual to have a gargantuan three-dimensional work displayed in the first exhibition hall and Bradford’s show is no exception. Mithra fulfills that role—an over 21-meter-high, 7-meter-tall abstracted boat-like form that was originally made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina out of wood salvaged from the wrecked city. It was first exhibited in the parking lot of a church in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, a primarily African-American community that suffered inordinate damage from the storm and then subsequent neglect from authorities charged with rebuilding. In its original location, it was a charged symbol pointing to the forces that amplified the storm’s devastation—racial inequality and neglect.  Some works rely on their immediate surrounding for their charge, while others can be moved.  I am not entirely sure which category Mithra belongs to, but placed inside this enclosed exhibition hall, far from the intensity of that disaster that bore it, the work loses its force.

 

Mark Bradford, Mithra, 2008, Mixed media, 726.4 x 1963.4 x 635 cm / 286 x 773 x 250 inches, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

For Shanghai audiences who saw Bradford’s 2015 exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum, there is déjà vu in “Los Angeles”.  Tears of a Tree and Lazy Mountain are on view and while both pieces are strong in their own right, seeing them here again feels like a repeat rather than a re-discovery. Just as the RAM exhibition had a group of 8 works entitled The Loop of Deep Waters, sculptures reminiscent of buoys with richly encrusted surfaces featuring networked patterns, here too are 10 pieces entitled Knot, which take similar forms. The objects conjure up notions of mapping, slave routes and migration, trade routes and rising seas, and some of these associations are calibrated to the location of Long Museum—adjacent to the Huangpu River.  Nonetheless, the suite of works The Loop of Deep Waters looked ravishing in the sunlight-drenched atrium at RAM. Whereas Knot, installed on the grey ground and flanked by concrete walls at Long Museum, does not evince the same spark. In fact, throughout the show the grey walls and the lackluster lighting dulls much of the work on view.

There are select pieces, however, that display the brilliance of Bradford’s oeuvre. Let go of me! Let me…., feels both like a map and a wound, and is more reminiscent of the artist’s signature style. Featuring a network of thick white pathways interspersed with patches of red, a text fragment within it indicates the city of Washington DC, while the title of the work confirms an underlying sense of violence. Clearly a centerpiece of the show, with its eponymous title, Los Angeles is an over 5-meter-long, collage and décollage, and as Raymond Hains described the technique, a lacerated poster piece. Caulk, ropes, posters and paint have been layered, sanded, and ripped to create a sprawling abstract representation of the artist’s hometown, but, through a particular lens. The impetus for Los Angeles came from the McCone Commission maps, produced after the Watts Riots in 1965. The riots were sparked by an altercation between a cop and an African American motorist, igniting rage from decades of discrimination and resulting in the, then, worst destruction in LA’s history. The McCone Commission maps were meant as a study to avoid future conflagrations, but only 27 years later, under similar circumstances, the 1982 Rodney King riots broke out. The forces that give rise to such violence are, to this day, deeply embedded.

 

Mark Bradford, Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford: Los Angeles’, The Long Museum, Shanghai, China, 2019, Photo: JJYPHOTO. © Mark Bradford, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

 

Bradford refers to his work as ‘social abstraction’ and although this seems contradictory he expresses the fault lines and injustices in society such that the often-subliminal ways they function in our daily life come more distinctly to the fore. It is a shame that Bradford’s vision isn’t more powerfully articulated at Long Museum, as his work reveals a reality that the world, particularly now, desperately needs to see.

 

Mark Bradford: Los Angeles
27 July – 13 October, 2019
Long Museum, Shanghai

 

About the Artist

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Mark Bradford (b. 1961) is best known for his large-scale paintings that explore the sociopolitical potential of abstraction through a rigorous approach to painting. The artist’s practice, self-described as ‘social abstraction,’ examines political and environmental conditions that continue to disproportionately affect the most marginalized populations. Within both historical and contemporary frameworks, Bradford has created a significant body of work that elucidates these issues, such as the AIDS epidemic, the misrepresentation and fear of queer identity, and systemic, institutionalized racism in America. Recycling ‘tools of civilization’ —merchant posters, newsprint, comic strips, magazines, billboards and endpapers—many of Bradford’s works are created by layering found materials and pop culture ephemera to fuse social indexes and cultural spheres, a technique he has used since graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1997.

Bradford’s profound insight and inventiveness have established him as one of the most significant and influential artists of his generation, and he has been widely exhibited internationally as well as the recipient of numerous awards including the U.S. Department of State’s Medal of Arts in 2014, his appointment as a National Academician in 2013, and a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 2009. In 2017, Bradford represented the US at the 57th Venice Biennale with ‘Tomorrow Is Another Day,’ and in November that same year, Bradford unveiled ‘Pickett’s Charge,’ a monumental, site-specific installation for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. In 2018, Bradford was commissioned to create a site-specific work for the new US Embassy in London. Entitled ‘We The People,’ the work is comprised of 32 panels, each 10 square feet, featuring select text from the United States Constitution.

 


 

Maya Kramer is an artist, an independent art writer and arts project coordinator. She was based in New York City for nine years during which time she worked in the curatorial department of the Guggenheim Museum and for private collectors. In 2010 she moved to Shanghai, and has since exhibited internationally in conjunction with institutions such the Hong Kong Arts Centre (Hong Kong) and the Van Abbe Museum (Eindhoven, Holland) among others. She is the recipient of the Jacob Javits Fellowship, her works have been featured in media such as Fortune Art, Randian and Blouin Art Info, and she has written for The Shanghai Gallery of Art, Artlink, and Bank Gallery. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China.

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply