The Mark Bradford Project

Mark BradfordMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago

May 28th – September 18th

It hasn’t taken a great deal of time for Mark Bradford to establish himself as the next big thing…doubly so for those in the world of abstract impressionism. The MCA realized this and has put on The Mark Bradford Project, which closes in three weeks.

Bradford’s overwhelmingly strong talent for resourcefulness separates him from other contemporary artists. Utilizing found scraps that were a part of his south L.A. neighborhood to which he’s still deeply devoted to, Bradford creates socially conscious, pseudo-pop mixed media pieces. From local post signs to permanent-wave end papers from his mother’s salon (a highly symbolic material representing black culture), Bradford does not lay any part of the mediums he uses, or the meanings behind them, to waste. His tactile abstract compositions mirror the abstract views of race, sexuality, and celebrity status in America.

In 2000, Bradford completed the minimalist Enter and Exit the New Negro (2000), considered by many to be his first important piece. Filled entirely with singed perm-wave end papers that are endlessly multiplied on layers of multi-hued white acrylic gel, Enter and Exit is simultaneously filled with both serenity and angst. Uniform and repetitive, much like project housing, Bradford is embellishing the American perception that lower class and inner city individuals are viewed as “all the same.”

Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford portrait: Mark Bradford. Photo by Fredrik Nilsen.

Fast forward 6 years and you’ll notice Bradford’s message hasn’t changed since Enter and Exit, but the details have.  Scorched Earth (2006) is an assessment of Bradford’s affection and alarm for the current state of his neighborhood. Like an apocalyptic Google Maps image, Scorched Earth gives us an aerial view of the urban decay that is plaguing the inner city. However, despair is not in total control. Many brightly colored “city blocks” are speckled amidst the black char, reminding the viewer that despite poverty and hardship, there are those making the best of it.

Mark Bradford
Scorched Earth: 94.5 x 118 Mark Bradford, Scorched Earth, 2006. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White.


Bradford’s oeuvre isn’t just limited to the canvas. Aside from sculpture and the re-furbishing of found signage, Bradford has made one of his more impactful pieces through film. Niagara (2005) is a 3 minute, 17 second video of an individual named Melvin, who frequently roamed the neighborhood near Bradford’s studio. Shot from behind we see Melvin walking in slow motion with a rather over-accentuated effeminate sashay.  Unabashed, Melvin is not afraid of being himself despite the stigma and danger of an urban male appearing anything less than masculine or heterosexual. Inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “longest walk in cinematic history” from the movie Niagara, Bradford is also chiding pop-culture for the way it shapes public views on gender norms.

Mark Bradford
Installation: Installation view of Mark Bradford, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. May 28 - September 18, 2011. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

The MCA has installed this exhibit beautifully, giving Bradford all the space he needs for his robust, decade spanning collection. If I have to find one complaint, it would be the excess of the artist’s deeply esoteric explanations. Although no one knows the pieces better than he, the viewer should be left to their own devices…most of the time. Despite their complexity, Bradford’s art has a simplistic symbolism that really should invoke rather than be complimented with explanation.

Either way, this is as close to the ground floor as we can get to an artist on a meteoric rise such as this. Make it a priority to take in the MCA exhibit before it closes September 18th.

Similar artists: Schwitters, Rauschenberg, Guston, Nauman

Highly Recommended

John B. Reinhardt

Museum of Contemporary Art / 220 E. Chicago Ave. Chicago, IL 60611/ running thru May 28th thru September 18th , 2011/ Monday: closed / Tuesday: 10am – 8pm / Weds. – Sun: 10am-5pm / suggested $12 admission / $7 with student ID and seniors / free all day, every Tuesday


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