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Collecting, Constructing, and Tearing Down: Mark Bradford at the MCA

Mark Bradford, "Potable Water" photo credit Bruce M. White
Mark Bradford, Potable Water. Photo credit Bruce M. White, MCA Chicago.

This is the last weekend to check out the first survey of Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The show brings together a collection of Bradford’s work from 2001 to 2010, arranged loosely by theme.

Bradford’s work is visceral – often large-scale and highly textured, layered with meaning. He describes his process as “collage and décollage,” a continuous cycle of building up and tearing down. Advertisements, comics, newsprint, and brightly colored scraps of paper are manipulated and layered, then sanded down to create surfaces that hint at what lies beneath. These are works that beg for closer inspection, allowing the viewer to mine for meaning – a process that is deeply rewarding.

Mark Bradford Helter Skelter I
Mark Bradford, detail of Helter Skelter I. Photo credit Nicole Nelson.

Found materials dominate these works. Bradford takes what has been discarded and infuses it with new life. His success with re-purposing materials speaks to a kind of up-against-the-wall ingenuity. In one of his early pieces, Enter and Exit the New Negro, Bradford used a bedsheet since he couldn’t afford canvas at the time, and layered it with endpapers from his mother’s salon, singed with a blowtorch to give added dimension. The result is understated yet intriguing. This what I enjoy so much about Bradford. He finds things that would never warrant a second glance and makes them beautiful.

Mark Bradford, Enter and Exit the New Negro

Mark Bradford, Enter and Exit the New Negro. Photo credit Nicole Nelson.

In addition to the survey, the Bradford participated in a year-long creative residency titled the Mark Bradford Project. The artist worked with teens from Lindblom Math and Science Academy and teenagers in the Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia program. Students developed their own art projects, documented in a blog hosted by the MCA, and had their own show in one of the city’s pop-up art gallery spaces. In an interview with W. Keith Brown, Bradford explained that he wanted to build on his own success to help the local community: “The Mark Bradford Project is not something that I just decided to do. I think the Mark Bradford Project really started the moment I realized there was a certain type of currency that I had developed from having a successful career. I had no interest in taking it and just going to parties or buying more shoes.” This is what makes Bradford so compelling to me. Not only is he a creator, but his practices also involves enabling others to be creators.


Mark Bradford with Lindblom Academy Students, photo credit Nathan Keay
Bradford with Lindblom Academy Students. Photo credit Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago.

Mark Bradford closes on September 18th. A gallery talk titled “The Los Angeles Painting Scene: History and Context” will be held on September 17th at 3pm.

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