Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum
Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with global unity and social justice.
Key artworks from Los Angeles include He would see the country burn if he could be the king of the ashes (2019), a large-scale installation consisting of spheres suspended from the ceiling. Each sphere denotes an earth, signifying the 'increasing isolation'—in the words of the artist—that is developing in different parts of the world. Through his planets of scorched land and black ocean, Bradford calls for solidarity among international communities to start taking better care of each other and the environment.
The signature work in Los Angeles is Mithra (2008), a boat-shaped sculpture that was originally created for Prospect.1, an international contemporary art biennale that was held in New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina. Evoking Noah's Ark, the work was built from salvaged street paintings and wooden boards from construction sites in New Orleans after the hurricane to commemorate the victims and to communicate hope. This is the first time Mithra is being exhibited outside the United States in its entirety.
Los Angeles also has on view Bradford's incessant experimentation with the boundaries of painting, such as Float (2019). The installation, which was made specifically for this exhibition, is composed of 12-metre-long deconstructed painting strips that cascade down from the ceiling to the floor.
As Nawi notes in the video, most of Bradford's paintings depart from traditional painting methods in that they are constructed through collage. He used to help at his mother's beauty shop in Los Angeles, later working there as a professional stylist, and he utilised hairdresser's end papers in his abstract collages in the early 2000s. Many of the artist's later paintings employ a process that he has likened to archaeological digging; the process involves layering magazines, newsprints, photographs, torn billboards, and other found materials, and sealing them with clear shellac, then working the surface back to excavate colours and images that are buried underneath.
Social context has long been a driving force in Bradford's paintings. Using his work to explore systemised racism and the marginalisation of minorities in the United States, in a 2015 conversation with Ocula Magazine the artist commented that 'I have never believed that abstract painting can exist independent of its social context or history.' He is also the co-founder of Art + Practice, a non-profit organisation in Los Angeles that seeks to encourage creativity in youth under foster care and hosts curated exhibitions of contemporary art for the community.—[O]