Installation view, from left, MARK BRADFORD, “Leucosia,” 2016 (mixed media on canvas); “Medusa,” 2016 (acrylic, paint, paper, rope, caulk), and “Raidne,” 2017 (mixed media on canvas).

 

OVER THE PAST YEAR, Mark Bradford has been ruminating. Chosen in April 2016 to represent the United States at the 57th Venice Biennale, the Los Angeles artist has been contemplating how best to develop an exhibition for the world stage that reflects the arc of his practice and advances its tenets.

To guide the process, Bradford created a full scale replica of the U.S. Pavilion in Venice in his Leimert Park studio and experimented with the most innovative and effective ways to activate the five-gallery space, which features a central rotunda.

In the end, he made 10 paintings and sculptures that present new approaches to his material-driven, collage-based abstraction. The works tangle with America’s political climate—raising social justices issues and giving a voice to marginalized populations. He reprised “Niagara,” a 2005 video installation, and also ventured into verse, writing a mythical poem that greets visitors when they enter the pavilion. The exhibition officially opens to the public May 13.

“’Tomorrow Is Another Day’ is the culmination of my personal and artistic process leading up to this incredible moment of representing the United States, but it also addresses the difficulties experienced by so many others who are trying to create foundations for themselves and find their footing,” Bradford said in a release. “The exhibition is not just about me, but about all of those who feel like they’re on the periphery.”

“’Tomorrow Is Another Day’ is the culmination of my personal and artistic process leading up to this incredible moment of representing the United States, but it also addresses the difficulties experienced by so many others who are trying to create foundations for themselves and find their footing.” — Mark Bradford

THE EXHIBITION IS PRESENTED by the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. Christopher Bedford, director of the BMA, is the commissioner for the project and co-curator with Katy Siegel, BMA senior programming and research curator.

Following Robert Colescott (1997) and Fred Wilson (2003), Bradford is the third African American artist selected to present a solo exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion.

Two columns flank the entry to the pavilion, the Giardini della Biennale. During a May 10 preview tour, Bradford discussed working in the exhibition space and commented on the historic references and architectural significance of the building and how the symbolism reverberated in his works.

“Physically, I did have a problem with the building itself. It’s kind of Monticello. It’s kind of based on Jefferson’s plantation. Me being African American, my relationship to it would be very different. I thought about the slaves. I didn’t think about Thomas Jefferson. I had to think about the slaves,” he said, in a gallery space where his sculpture “Medusa” is on view. “…And it felt like governance. It really felt like governance. So for me I started thinking about what would be underneath that. I am thinking about slaves and subterranean things and grottos. And even if you look in the middle room (the rotunda) on the floor, it’s a compass, a navigational compass. So again, water and routes…”

Bradford also shared his process in the studio and unpacked some of the meaning contained in “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” a large-scale collage painting from which the exhibition takes its name.

“Although I am an abstract painter, and I will always be an abstract painter because I love being an abstract painter, if I pull information from the world, even if it’s just Xerox paper that you use for your child’s fifth grade… there’s social memory that’s never going to fully be erased. But, at the same time, I am a mad professor and in my studio, I think what I do in my studio is I grapple with all the social material and I grapple with my own condition and together I fight for something in the studio and at the end it becomes a piece and it does hold hope. It does hold hope. It holds roughness and turmoil, but it holds hope, too. But that’s me,” he said.

“I am a mad professor and in my studio, I think what I do in my studio is I grapple with all the social material and I grapple with my own condition and together I fight for something in the studio and at the end it becomes a piece and it does hold hope.” — Mark Bradford

A woman asked Bradford whether death is reflected in the painting. “It’s all through it,” he said. “I grew up with death and I grew up with violence. When you are a 6 foot 7, skinny, sissy (They called me sissy) black man in South Central, violence is something you get used to.”

Bradford’s exhibitions at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and Hauser & Wirth New York referenced the 1980s AIDS crisis and the many friends the artist lost in the era. Some of the same emotion and visual tension emerges in the new canvases.

 


Installation view of rotunda, “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day,” La Biennale di Venezia, U.S. Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2017. | Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

ART + PRACTICE, the foundation Bradford co-founded near his studio, is a community hub, providing exhibition space, lectures, an artist residency, and extensive support and educational and cultural programming for local youth in the foster care system.

Bradford’s desire to foreground particular issues and help provide solutions courses throughout his biennale project. Last year, an installation at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis addressed the exploitation of prisoners and their families at the hands of cell phone carriers charging predatory rates for collect calls. Now he has turned his attention to incarcerated men and women in Venice.

Bradford’s desire to foreground particular issues and help provide solutions courses throughout his biennale project. …he has turned his attention to incarcerated men and women in Venice.

He hopes to support a sustainable long-term program that will equip them with employment skills, smooth their re-integration into society, and raise awareness about the penal system. The artist is collaborating with Rio Terà dei Pensieri, a nonprofit social cooperative. During the biennale, “Process Collettivo,” their six-year partnership, is selling artisanal goods made by prison inmates at a Venice storefront with the proceeds benefitting the cooperative.

A FULLY ILLUSTRATED CATALOG was published to accompany the exhibition. It is available now in Venice and will be distributed more widely beginning in June. The book documents the biennale presentation and provides a broad consideration of Bradford’s practice. British author Zadie Smith, curator and Harvard University professor Sarah Lewis, and Anita Hill, a professor of law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, are among the contributors.

Hill, testified at the 1991 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, accusing him of sexual harassment. Both Bradford and Hill are on the board of advisors at the Rose Art Museum, and have engaged with each other in public dialogues.

In 2014, they discussed art, blackness, and the diaspora at The Rose. “You have to step out of your expertise, and partner and collaborate with other people who have expertise in areas you don’t. It will humble you and it will give them a sense of purpose and strength,” Bradford told the audience, according to BrandeisNOW. Bradford and Hill also talked about “feminism as a gateway to activism and social justice, and their interdisciplinary methods for speaking truth to power,” at the Hammer Museum in 2015.

The catalog also includes excerpts from “Black Reconstruction in America” by W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” and features an extensive interview with Bradford conducted by Bedford.

“Mark has a virtuosic ability to make art that speaks to, and for everyone,” said Siegel. “’Tomorrow Is Another Day’ is the ultimate manifestation of his generous and democratic vision of art and the world. Not only has he created some of his most spectacular and ambitious work to date, but he also reveals the greatest extremes of his vision—the darkest and most joyful we have ever seen from him.” CT

 

After its debut at the Venice Biennale, “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day” will be on view at The Baltimore Museum of Art (September 2018-January 2019).

 

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

 

BOOKSHELF
A new fully illustrated catalog accompanies “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” Mark Bradford’s monumental vision at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Essays by co-curators Christopher Bedford and Katy Siegel are featured alongside contributions by Zadie Smith, Sarah Lewis, Peter James Hudson, and Anita Hill, among others, and an interview with the artist by Bedford. “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. “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 & Wirth Zurich.

 


Detail of MARK BRADFORD, “Spoiled Foot,” 2016 (mixed media on canvas, lumber, loan
sheeting and drywall; unique). | Photo by Joshua White, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 


Installation view, from left, MARK BRADFORD, “Tomorrow Is Another Day” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (both mixed-media on canvas, 2016). | Photo by Joshua White, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 


MARK BRADFORD, “Medusa,” 2016 (mixed media, unique). | Photo by Joshua White, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth