Continuing his career-long exploration of the systems that oppress marginalized populations, Bradford’s newest exhibition features work rich in both formal and allegorical complexity, reasserting the importance of abstraction to understand the world we live in and confirming his place among the most important artists working today.
For his first exhibition in Spain, Mark Bradford presents an installation of globe sculptures, a site-specific wall painting, and a suite of new canvases based on a sixteenth-century map of the world thought to feature the first use of the name ‘America’ in print.
In direct response to Mark Bradford's ‘Masses and Movements’, the Education Lab is dedicated to showcasing PILAglobal and features an artistic intervention emphasizing the vast, interconnected nature of the refugee crisis today. Site-specific wall drawings created in collaboration with students from the local Escola d'Art de Menorca spotlight popular migration routes around the globe.
Throughout his career, Bradford has employed his signature style of archaeological abstraction to explore maps of the world of all different kinds, unpacking social and political systems that objectify and marginalize vulnerable populations. Using maps of cities, neighborhoods, public housing developments, and trade routes, the artist has unpacked the embedded biases that define the barriers and boundaries we inhabit, revealing a world predetermined by power structures. For ‘Masses and Movements’, Bradford inverts this, instead reaching for a source image many times removed from a realistic representation of the world.
Using maps of cities, neighborhoods, public housing developments, and trade routes, the artist has unpacked the embedded biases that define the barriers and boundaries we inhabit, revealing a world predetermined by power structures. For ‘Masses and Movements’, Bradford inverts this, instead reaching for a source image many times removed from a realistic representation of the world.
In the original Waldseemüller map from 1507, Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, the northern coast of Africa, and the Middle East are well-defined and recognizable to the modern eye. Approaching the edges, angular shapes represent masses of land without definition, unexplored regions yet to be drawn and divided by European colonial powers. Latin texts, illustrations of human figures, and angelic personifications of trade winds fill the margins lending fantastical overtones to the depiction of the world. Across the Atlantic Ocean, ‘America’ is printed over what would later become known as Brazil.
Beginning with fragments of this map, Bradford applied caulk in expressive gestures that drip and run across the surface. Various types of paper add layers of color, and bleach transforms the materials into a nuance of shades and textures.
The artist then processed the surfaces using his signature techniques of sanding, scraping, tearing, and gouging through the accumulated layers of materials, excavating fossilized mythologies that feel familiar yet unrecognizable. Markings reminiscent of scrimshawed bones, vast interconnected lines, and half-recognizable shapes and figures repeat across the canvases in various placements and orientations.
The visual language evokes multiple narratives that conjure images of a world in motion: continental drift, animal migrations, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, or the displacement of indigenous peoples. Below the layers of accumulated material, Bradford uncovers unstable narratives of European exploration rooted in myth. Neglected on the surface of this map are the stories of those adversely impacted by the legacy of these colonial histories.
Suspended from the ceiling in a straight line in the centre of an adjacent gallery, seven globe sculptures of increasing sizes occupy the space, pushing visitors to the periphery. Black paper oceans surround crumpled masses of oxidized paper in the shapes of continents, harkening back to ancient fears of the sea as an unknowable and untameable ‘other’. Differing in sizes, the globes represent divergent experiences of a planet prearranged by inequitable access to power and privilege.
The final room in ‘Masses and Movements’ is dedicated to a display of art’s kinetic potential to center marginalized stories. Stacks of posters that visitors are invited to take feature advertisements for low interest home loans, foreclosure abeyance services, or cash for homes that Bradford collected around Los Angeles superimposed over images of deserts, oceans, border walls, and coastlines.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Mark Bradford (b. 1961) is best known for his large-scale paintings that explore the socio-political potential of abstraction through a rigorous approach to painting. Bradford’s ongoing practice examines political and environmental conditions that continue to disproportionately affect the most marginalized populations. Within both historical and contemporary frameworks, Bradford has created a significant body of work that elucidates these issues, such as the AIDS epidemic, the misrepresentation and fear of queer identity, and systemic, institutionalized racism in America.
Mark Bradford (b. 1961 in Los Angeles; lives and works in Los Angeles) is a contemporary artist best known for his large-scale abstract paintings created out of paper. Characterized by its layered formal, material, and conceptual complexity, Bradford’s work explores social and political structures that objectify marginalized communities and the bodies of vulnerable populations. Just as essential to Bradford’s work is a social engagement practice through which he reframes objectifying societal structures by bringing contemporary art and ideas into communities with limited access to museums and cultural institutions.
Mark Bradford. Masses and Movements
This inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Menorca is on view 19 July – 31 October