In 2012, when SFMOMA gave Mark Bradford a career retrospective, it was clear that the young LA born artist was a rising star in the arts firmament. Born in 1961, Bradford was raised in South Los Angeles. His height (6’, 7”) made him more of a candidate for a basketball player than one of the U.S. most promising young artists. His mother Janice Banks owned a beauty salon in Leimert Park. Bradford and his family moved to a then largely white neighborhood in Santa Monica when he was 11, but his mother still maintained her business in the old neighborhood, where Bradford worked some time. When Bradford graduated from high school, he obtained his hairdresser’s license and went to work at his mother’s salon.
Bradford began his studies at the California Institute of the Arts in 1991 at the age of 30. Here, he earned a BFA in 1995 and an MFA in 1997. Bradford first gained national attention in 2001 in “Freestyle,” the self-designated “post-black,” new-talent survey at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He was one of the oldest people in the show, but his art was intriguing and unique. His background was unusual in that, while earning his degrees at the California Institute of Arts, he supported himself as a stylist in his mother’s beauty salon in South Central Los Angeles and used hairdressing supplies — curling paper, gels — in his art, the large abstract collages that he called paintings. He still uses unusual materials, stating that “if it can’t be found at Home Depot, I don’t use it.”
Bradford’s early works incorporated permanent-wave end papers, an influence from his family’s beauty parlor in South Central Los Angeles. Later works employ various collaged materials typically salvaged from the street—billboard paper, newsprint, carbon paper, wrapping paper—that the artist layers together or strips apart, and then dramatically manipulates with nylon string, caulking, and sanding.
In 2013, Mark Bradford, the philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton and neighborhood activist Allan Dicastro established Art + Practice, an organisation based in Leimert Park that encourages engagement with the arts and supports local 16- to 24-year-olds who are transitioning out of foster care. Bradford and Dicastro are both long-term residents of South Los Angeles and have witnessed first-hand how a lack of educational and social resources can impact on the community. The pair created Art + Practice as a developmental platform for transitional age youth, stressing the importance of creative activity and practical skills for personal transformation and social change.
Now The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has announced that Mark Bradford will be the representative for the United States at La Biennale di Venezia 57th International Art Exhibition, the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. Bradford is known for his work across media inspiring cross-cultural dialogue on social, political, and economic issues facing underserved urban communities. He will create a new site-specific installation for the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, Italy, to be on view May 13–November 26, 2017.
Christopher Bedford, the Henry and Lois Foster Director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass, and Katy Siegel, Rose Art Museum Curator at Large and Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Endowed Chair in Modern American Art, Stony Brook University will commissioned and co-curated the U.S. Pavilion. Bradford’s exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion will be the first Venice Biennale project presented by the Rose Art Museum. In a telephone interview with the NY Times, Bradford said “The black body is always a heavy politicized body, in America in particular, and so carrying that burden is kind of a birthright for me,” he said, adding: “I’m thinking a lot about what matters to me right now. And I think this is a time to put that on the table.”
“The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University is honored to present the work of Mark Bradford as the official United States Representative to the 2017 Venice Biennale,” commented Bedford. “As the leading American abstract painter of his generation and a vigorous advocate for the interests of under-represented urban communities in the U.S. and beyond, Bradford creates work that embodies art’s capacity to both inspire wonder and catalyze enduring social change. Similarly, the Rose’s renowned collection of postwar art is rooted in a commitment to material invention and expanding knowledge through culture, while Brandeis’s investment in social justice as a core value permeates the work of every teaching and research unit of the University. It is with the greatest pleasure that we announce our collaboration with Mark Bradford: no artist could be better aligned with the character of our institution or better positioned to represent the United States in the 21st century.”
Based in Los Angeles, Mark Bradford’s sweeping canvases recapture mid-century American art’s capacity to conjure the sublime and evoke deep feeling, while incorporating layers of social comment. In parallel with his work in the studio, Bradford maintains a social practice, anchored by his Los Angeles-based not-for-profit, Art + Practice, an educational platform that emphasizes practical skills for foster youth and stresses the cultural importance of art within a larger social context. These equivalent commitments to formal invention and social activism anchor Bradford’s contribution to culture at large, embodying his belief that contemporary artists can reinvent the world we share.
Solo exhibitions include “Scorched Earth” at the Hammer Museum (2015), “Sea Monsters” at the Rose Art Museum (2014), Aspen Art Museum (2011), “Maps and Manifests” at Cincinnati Art Museum (2008), and “Neither New Nor Correct” at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007). In 2009, Mark Bradford was the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Award. In 2010, a large-scale survey of his work was organized by Christopher Bedford and presented at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, before traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
His work has been widely exhibited and has been included in group shows at LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014), Whitney Museum of American Art (2013), the 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011), Seoul Biennial (2010), the Carnegie International (2008), São Paulo Biennial (2006), and Whitney Biennial (2006).