Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

The narrowness of one Mark Bradford narrative

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The dominant narrative around Mark Bradford’s work goes something like this: He’s African-American. He takes many of his materials from economically depressed, post-Watts, South Central Los Angeles. Therefore his work is to be considered within the context of its urban-ness, its blackness and Bradford’s allegedly urban biography.

Except… that path to Bradford’s work is reductivist at best, even misleading. Bradford grew up in Santa Monica, a white, upper-middle-class suburb. His choice of materials has as much to do with Alberto Burri, Mimmo Rotella, post-war European abstraction and Robert Rauschenberg‘s combines as it does the post-Watts American cityscape. One of the best things about Bradford’s work is that he’s tackling so much more than just urban black America. He takes on big themes. [Image: Bradford, Practice (video stills), 2003. Collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.]

On this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast, I asked Bradford if the critical focus on one part of his biography — being African-American — is overdone and if another part of his biography — he’s gay — is under-considered. Among the works we discussed were Practice, Niagara, CrowParis is Burning (I couldn’t find an image, but it’s the construction that spells out “Fuck Straigt [sic] People”) and Pinocchio Is On Fire, a new room-sized installation he made on the occasion of his traveling mid-career survey. (Aside: The National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” would have been an even better show if it had included Practice or Niagara.)

I think some of Bradford’s stories about growing up in a place and time that didn’t know what to do with a black, gay young man may surprise you — and may provide insight into some of his recent work. If you haven’t listened to this week’s show yet, take a gander via the links below. [Image: Bradford, Pinocchio Is On Fire, 2010. Installation dimensions variable.]

Related: Bradford was featured on Season Four of the public television program Art21. Here’s Art21’s entire Bradford segment. Here’s an Art21 YouTube clip of Practice. Bradford’s mid-career survey is at SFMOMA, its final stop. Here’s a peek at how Pinocchio looks at SFMOMA.

To download or subscribe to The Modern Art Notes Podcast via iTunes, click here. To download the program directly, click here. To subscribe to The MAN Podcast’s RSS feed, click here.

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  1. Diana Thater says:

    Why is any part of an artist’s biography considered? When will the artworld get over essentialism? It’s the lowest kind of discussion.

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