mark bradford at hauser and wirth ny 11:6:15 photo by victoria l. valentine-

FOR HIS FIRST NEW YORK EXHIBITION with Hauser and Wirth Gallery, Mark Bradford has mounted a show that reinforces the depth of his painting practice and at the same time demonstrates his mastery of conceptual and performance art.

“Be Strong Boquan” begins with a whimsical video installation with anthropomorphic roller skate wheels rolling, leaping and meandering to and fro across the screen while others remain stationary, seemingly observing the action which is tuned to a slowed-down, abstracted version of Sylvester’s 1978 song “Grateful.” It’s clever and kind of mesmerizing.

“In thinking about this show, I was thinking about the early history of this space being The Roxy, but then I was also thinking of nightlife at that time and what was on the horizon in terms of the AIDS epidemic,” Bradford says.

“In thinking about this show, I was thinking about the early history of this space being The Roxy, but then I was also thinking of nightlife at that time and what was on the horizon in terms of the AIDS epidemic.”
— Mark Bradford

It took the Los Angeles-based artist a while to figure out the concept for “Deimos.” It began with a cache of roller skates from Hauser and Wirth. The gallery inaugurated a new location in January 2013 in the building that once housed The Roxy, a roller disco cum nightclub that opened in 1978 and closed in 2007.

“Hauser + Wirth kept all of the roller skates from The Roxy and they shipped them to my studio about a year ago and I hung them from the rafters and I would roller skate around and try to come up with something, looking for a way to extract something social. I took the smallest detail about these roller skates [the wheels] and in my studio just started rolling them,” he says.

“The wheels themselves almost become animated with personalities. There is one messy one that wobbles in at the end. We’ve all seen that at the club. I wanted it to be the first thing you experience when you walk through.”


mark bradford - deimos
MARK BRADFORD, “Deimos,” 2015 (digital video with audio; Duration: 1 minute, 21 seconds) | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


BRADFORD DISCUSSED “DEIMOS” and other works during a press preview of “Be Strong Boquan” on Nov. 6. Leading a tour of the galleries, he explained his concepts and provided backstories for how the works developed. The following day, the artist participated in a standing room only public conversation about the exhibition with Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

All of the paintings in the show were executed in 2014 and 2015 and they are bookended by a pair of multimedia installations. The whimsy of “Deimos” is balanced by a thought-provoking and somewhat discomfiting “Spiderman,” a stand-up comedy performance Bradford debuted earlier this year at his “Scorched Earth” exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

That show was a meditation on post-riot (1992) race relations in Los Angeles, featured a map of HIV diagnoses in the United States, and was also described by the museum as referencing “formative moments in [the artist’s] life and ruminations on the body in crisis.”

“Be Strong Boquan” carries these themes forward, further exploring perceptions surrounding the 1980s AIDS epidemic and queer identity, Bradford’s experiences during The Roxy era and visual interpretations of the body’s response to HIV/AIDS.

The main galleries of the exhibition feature Bradford’s signature abstract collage paintings, a visual feast of color and texture achieved by building up countless layers of found paper and tearing, cutting and sandblasting through them to reveal new possibilities. The color pink emerges as a common reference and whereas his patterns generally tend to be linear and arterial, with this new series circular nodules appear across several of his large and small canvases.

He started looking at sarcoma cells and the mark making, fissures and cuts on the new canvases reference what he saw under the microscope. “The whole show has to do with the body, but the body is not present. I would say it’s a ghost body,” Bradford says.

“The whole show has to do with the body but the body is not present.”
— Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford - Waterfall - Photo by Victoria L. Valentine
MARK BRADFORD, Installation view of “Waterfall,” 2015 (mixed media) at Hauser and Wirth, New York | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


“Waterfall,” an impressive installation that even dwarfs Bradford, who stands more than 6 feet 7 inches tall, is composed of remnants lying around his studio. “At the same time I was making the paintings, I was also thinking about what constitutes painting and how I could push my practice a little further,” says Bradford.

“This was basically the detritus from another project. I started kind of throwing it over a beam, but then I realized the accumulation was like a painting. I started thinking of it as a painting, meets a sculpture, meets flaking skin, meets a dreadlock. I called it a waterfall because I was using the term so much in the studio that it stuck.”

FINALLY, IN A DARKENED REAR GALLERY SPACE, a stand-up comedy performance is underway. “Spiderman” is presented in audio with the words to the act appearing against a black background in the form of subtitles. There is no video of the comedian performing. Rather than watch, you must listen closely to the routine and read along. At one point during the politically provocative routine, the comedian gathers his nephews and tells one of them, Boquan, to “be strong.”

Tough topics and hard truths are often broached in comedy and Bradford figured that HIV/AIDS, which he says was about dying in the 1980s and in the 90s got political, was finally fair game. “When does something that is taboo become a part of the social contract?” he says. “I wanted to use comedy to play with some things.”

“When does something that is taboo become a part of the social contract? I wanted to use comedy to play with some things.” — Mark Bradford

Connie Butler, chief curator at the Hammer Museum, further distills Bradford’s cultural antennae in her catalog essay for “Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth”

“Bradford remains a close observer of the language of culture, in particular when, as he says, slanderous turns of phrase or impulses become benign. The lexicon of so-called heteronormative culture neutralizes certain bullying and oppressive language, and he is interested in these moments as they mark a timeline of cultural accommodation,” Butler wrote.

“With [Eddie] Murphy’s rant against gay men—what they might or might not do to him—and his equating gayness with sickness, it became clear that gay bashing was now acceptable.”


Mark Bradford - Installation view - Be Strong Boquan x 3- Photo by Victoria L. Valentine
Installation view, from left, MARK BRADFORD, “Jaquan,” “Maquan,” and “Boquan,” all 2015 (mixed media on canvas). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


BRADFORD WROTE AND PERFORMED “Spiderman.” Listening to the routine, both in terms of the content and delivery, it’s hard to believe he is not a professional comedian who performs stand-up night after night on the circuit. He says he channeled Murphy in “Delirious” (1983) and was also inspired by the comedians Murphy emulated.

“If you remember Red Foxx’s Party albums, which were very irreverent, or Richard Pryor’s… I wanted it to be irreverent, but I also wanted it to address a lot of social things I was interested in, so I used comedy as the gaze,” says Bradford.

The artist took the project very seriously. He had a leather suit made and would strut around his studio in leather shoes that went with the outfit, in character, working out the routine. He says his assistants tired of it after awhile.

In “Spiderman” Bradford says “Easy-E is the only brother I knew who made HIV look gangster.” He talks about a guy who started taking birth control pills figuring if they “can stop a baby,” they can stop HIV. He references “I can’t breath,” the phrase uttered repeatedly by Eric Garner before he died on a sidewalk, unaided and surrounded by police. He also discusses the Jacksons and wonders why all the “bad stuff” comes from Africa.

Then toward the end of the routine says, “I sat down all of my nephews, I sat down Jayquan, Maquan, Tiaquan, Dayquan, I even sat down little Boquan… I said look here motherfuckers, there is some new shit on the horizon and it’s gonna make your dick fall off… So go to school and tell your teachers, tell your Sunday school teachers, ‘it’s from Milwaauukeeee!'” CT


“Be Strong Boquan” is on view at Hauser and Wirth in New York, Nov. 7-Dec. 23, 2015.


“Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Hammer Museum earlier this year. 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 (2014). Both titles were published this year. 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.


Nov. 7: At Hauser and Wirth, New York, Mark Bradford discusses his exhibition “Be Strong Boquan” with Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. | Video by Hauser and Wirth


Mark Bradford - Installation view - Be Strong Boquan - Photo by Victoria L. Valentine
Installation view of “Be Strong Boquan” at Hauser and Wirth, New York. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


Mark Bradford - Killing the Goodbye - Photo by Victoria L. Valenitine
MARK BRADFORD, Detail of “Killing the Goodbye,” 2015 (mixed media on canvas). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


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