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TWO YEARS FROM NOW, in 2017, Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford (above) plans to take full advantage of the unique cylindrical structure of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The critically recognized artist is installing a suite of site-specific paintings on the third floor of the Smithsonian museum where the work will occupy the entire circumference of the curved galleries.

The exhibition is Bradford’s first in Washington and it is among many new announcements that have come from the Hirshhorn since Melissa Chiu took over as director in September 2014.

The new 360-degree work will be the largest Bradford has ever created and the special presentation marks the first time a single artist has been given carte blanche to use the entire expanse of the museum’s inner-ring gallery.

Bradford, 54, makes large-scale mixed-media collage paintings composed of found paper and advertisements. The abstract works reflect his personal experiences and address cultural and social justice issues.

The Washington City Paper reported that the commission will cover 397 linear feet and that Bradford “will be working without any intercessory support—no canvas, no paper—applying materials directly to the museum’s walls.”

Bradford told the City Paper: “I want it to feel as if it can’t make up its mind on whether it’s deconstructing itself or constructing itself.” The groundbreaking work is defined by the artist’s innovative approach to materials and application and the architecture of the venue.

Mark Bradford on the 360-degree work he is creating for the Hirshhorn: “I want it to feel as if it can’t make up its mind on whether it’s deconstructing itself or constructing itself.” — The City Paper

“The Hirshhorn building presents an unparalleled opportunity for artists to interact with its sweeping circular architecture,” said Chiu in a press release. “Mark Bradford has won acclaim for his site-specific works, and we are thrilled to see what he does at the Hirshhorn.”

 

TOP IMAGE: Mark Bradford. | Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

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Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. | Photo by Lee Stalsworth, Courtesy Hirshhorn Museum

 

CHIU, WHO PREVIOUSLY SERVED as director of the Asia Society in New York, has spent the last year reconstituting the Hirshhorn, which had endured a series of setbacks involving its finances, leadership and programming direction.

Last month in a City Paper cover story Chiu emphasized the seriousness of the situation: “If we hadn’t been part of the Smithsonian, we would’ve gone the way of the Corcoran.” (The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington was founded in 1869 and after protracted mismanagement involving financial and leadership challenges the private museum and its art and design school closed last fall.)

Many of Chiu’s decisions over the past year have related to operations and strategic planning as she figures out how to shore up the museum’s endowment.

The Bradford project was publicized on Oct. 15. Two days earlier, the museum announced it has received its largest gift ever—$2 million from museum trustee Joleen Jolis and her husband, Mitch Jolis.

Under Chiu’s leadership, the size of the Hirshhorns board has more than doubled to 21, up from 10 in 2013. Jolis joined in October 2014 and Theaster Gates, the Chicago-based installation artist and creative urban developer, is among four new members who were announced last month.

The Hirshhorn is marking its 40th anniversary, a yearlong celebration that began in October 2014 with a celebration dinner at the museum.

Since then, plans for a big anniversary gala on Nov. 9 at the new World Trade Center building in New York, a major fundraiser, have ruffled some feathers. As Washington struggles to raise its profile and establish its bonafides as an arts destination, some locals wonder why not take advantage of the occasion to bring the global art world—its money, luminaries and imprimatur—to Washington for the milestone celebration.

One detractor owns the domains names for Chiu’s full name and that of her husband, Benjamin Genocchio. The websites open to a splash page featuring a image of the Hirshhorn overlaid with the words “Melissa Chui must resign.” The page links to a Washington Post story about the New York gala.

“Rather than snubbing the District, the New York gala is part of the effort ‘to totally transform’ the modern and contemporary art museum, which must broaden its audience and donor base to survive,” the Post reported, quoting Hirshhorn Deputy Director Elizabeth Duggal.

Rather than snubbing the District, the New York gala is part of the effort “to totally transform” the modern and contemporary art museum, which must broaden its audience and donor base to survive.
— Hirshhorn Deputy Director Elizabeth Duggal, The Washington Post

“It’s very much on our mind to reach and engage with diverse audiences, both locally and nationally,” Duggal told the Post. “As a Smithsonian museum, we need to be representative not just of D.C., but nationally and internationally.”

The gala features a special performance by Gates and will honor 40 contemporary artists including Bradford, Charles Gaines, Sam Gilliam, Jennie C. Jones, Julie Mehretu, Jason Moran, and Martin Puryear. (The full list of honorees has yet to be released.)

 


An excerpt from the March 19, 2015, Meet the Artist conversation between Jason Moran and Theaster Gates.

 

MUCH HAS BEEN REPORTED about the gala, fundraising, board expansion and a curator-at-large appointed early in Chiu’s tenure who would remain based in New York. Less attention has been paid to the museum’s programming and acquisitions this year, which have included the cadre of African American artists slated to be honored at the New York event.

Before Gates joined Hirshhorn’s board, he participated with Moran in the Meet the Artist series at the Hirshhorn in March. In addition to transforming abandoned buildings into vibrant art spaces and cultural hubs, Gates has an experimental blues band called the Black Monks of Mississippi. A pianist and composer who serves as artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Moran frequently works with visual artists.

Gates and Moran collaborated on “Looks of a Lot,” a live performance commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Hirshhorn program included screening a documentary about the making of the performance followed by a discussion between the two artists.

In April, Mehretu discussed her practice with Karen Milbourne, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, for the Hirshhorn’s Meet the Artist series.

An Ethiopian-born American painter, Mehretu is based in New York. According to the museum, she “layers gestural marks and architectural, geographical, and historical symbols to create large-scale semi-abstract canvases.” At auction her work consistently ranks among the most expensive compared with other living women artists and outpaces all other black women artists.

The Hirshhorn event was presented in collaboration with the African art museum where Mehretu’s work was included in the exhibition “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists.”

LISTEN to Julie Mehretu’s Meet the Artist discussion

A couple of acquisition announcements have been made during Chiu’s tenure. In July, the museum announced it had acquired works by “a diverse slate of international artists.” Works by a dozen artists and collectives were brought into the museum’s collection, including Senga Nengudi’s “R.S.V.P. X” (1977/2014), “a sculpture made of worn nylon stockings that are stretched, knotted and weighed down with sand, has ties to performance, feminist art and post-minimalism” and two triptychs by Gaines, “Walnut Tree Orchard: Set 13” (1975–2014) and “Walnut Tree Orchard: Set 14” (1975–2014). Both artists began their careers in Los Angeles during the 1970s black arts movement and continue to practice today.

 

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Recent Acquisition: SENGA NENGUDI, “R.S.V.P. X,” 1977/2014 (nylon stockings, sand).

 

“The Hirshhorn is acquiring works that enable broader, deeper narratives of the history of modern and contemporary art,” Chiu said in a press release when the acquisitions were announced. “We’re adding another dimension to a story that was previously the domain of European and American artists. These acquisitions speak to the Hirshhorn’s increased international focus. At the same time, our collection gains depth in underexplored areas of American art over the past few decades, particularly the work of African American artists.”

“We’re adding another dimension to a story that was previously the domain of European and American artists. These acquisitions speak to the Hirshhorn’s increased international focus. At the same time, our collection gains depth in underexplored areas of American art over the past few decades, particularly the work of African American artists.”
— Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu, museum press release

In celebration of the museum’s 40th anniversary, the third floor galleries (where Bradford’s installation will appear) were renovated. The first exhibition on view in the new spaces is “At the Hub of Things: New Views of the Collection,” which includes “The Age of Enlightenment—Antoine Lavoisier” (2008), by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.

Bradford’s monumental “fresco” will be unveiled in November 2017. CT

 

BOOKSHELF
“Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Hammer Museum. Rife with illustrations, the volume discusses “Spiderman,” Bradford’s multimedia standup comedy installation and includes the original script for the stand up routine. “Mark Bradford: My Head Became a Rock” is an 18-page limited-edition overscaled artist;s book that documents Bradford’s inaugural exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, Zurich. Forthcoming in January 2016, “Mark Bradford: Tears of a Tree” explores three monumental collage paintings titled “The Tears of a Tree,” “Falling Horses” and “Lazy Mountain,” inspired by the Bradford’s visits to Shanghai.

 

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Recent Acquisition: CHARLES GAINES, “Walnut Tree Orchard: Set 13,” 1975–2014 (photograph, ink on paper; three parts).

 

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On View: YINKA SHONIBARE, “The Age of Enlightenment—Antoine Lavoisier,” 2008 (mixed media).