TEN BIDDERS VIED FOR A NEW PAINTING by Mark Bradford at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on May 12. The sale price for “Smear” was ultimately $4,394,000 (including fees), a record for the Los Angeles-based artist, according to Sotheby’s and Iris Index. A brilliant nexus of color, technique and materials executed in 2015, the mixed media canvas is an excellent example of Bradford’s signature approach to abstraction.
A brilliant nexus of color, technique and materials executed in 2015, the mixed media canvas is an excellent example of Bradford’s signature approach to abstraction.
It was a full auction week in New York with day and evening contemporary sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. At Christie’s, Pablo Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” shattered expectations when it sold for $179.4 million (including fees) on May 11, the highest price ever recorded for a work of art at auction, the company said.
Seven artists broke records at the Sotheby’s sale, including Bradford, who donated “Smear” to the auction with the proceeds benefitting the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Bradford, who founded Art + Practice, an arts and education foundation near his Leimert Park studio last year, was also elected to the board of MOCA LA in 2014.
A special “Artists for MOCA” catalog was produced featuring works by Bradford and several other artists, such as Walead Beshty, Mark Grotjahn, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Takashi Murakami, Catherine Opie and Ed Ruscha and Jonas Wood, whose lots raised funds for the Los Angeles museum.
Sotheby’s describes the Bradford work thus:
“‘Smear’ courses with a stunning vitality that evinces the complex evolution of its phenomenally variegated surface. While the noun form of “smear,” a horizontal drag of a substance across a surface, seems to be evoked by the eponymous work’s composition, the painstaking technicality of its execution belies the connotations of ungoverned abandon that accompany ‘smear’ as a verb.
“‘Smear’ courses with a stunning vitality that evinces the complex evolution of its phenomenally variegated surface.”
“Instead, ‘Smear’ is the direct result of a protracted method of collage and décollage that transforms Bradford’s canvas from simply an arena in which to orchestrate an aesthetic arrangement into a highly constructed, autonomous object. Like trenches running through the artist’s formulated landscape, the repeated series of horizontal and vertical demarcations of pictorial space convey Bradford’s methodical physicality, their edges projecting outwards from the canvas ground, conferring a striking three-dimensionality to the surface.”
Three other African American artists were also featured in the Sotheby’s auction of 63 works: Glenn Ligon (Lot 26), David Hammons (Lots 23 and 40), and the late Jean-Michel Basquiat (Lots 27, 41 and 42).
Bradford’s painting was the first lot in the sale. Estimated to sell for $600,000-$700,000, “Smear” garnered more than six times the anticipated price reaching nearly $4.4 million (including fees). Bradford’s previous record was set a few months ago, in February 2015, when his 2013 painting “Biting the Book” sold at Phillips in London for $3.87 million. CT
A wealth of scholarship on Mark Bradford’s work has been published over the past several years. In 2010, “Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters” and “Mark Bradford” from the Wexner Center for the Arts, which accompanied his first major survey exhibition, were released. “Mark Bradford: Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank” was published last year and “Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth” (June 2015), a new forthcoming volume, captures his latest work exploring “the body and the performance of identity.”