by Niva Taylor / Nasher Museum Student Intern
There are a lot of negative connotations wrapped up with the concept of “being wrong,” “failing” and “making mistakes.” None of these phrases can be uttered without at least a slight mental cringe. Yet, what makes Mark Bradford’s collages even more captivating than their grandeur and complexity, their intricate use of experimental mixed-media or even their underlying social messages, is their ability to turn “being wrong,” “failing,” and “making mistakes” into positives.
Mark Bradford’s pieces are overwhelming. His canvases are huge, his patterns loud and his confident, raw underlying messages obvious. However, just taking in the expansiveness of his works only gives you a fraction of Bradford’s story. Over the past 11 years, the artist has evolved from working at his mother’s beauty salon to winning the MacArthur Genius award — but not without setbacks. In 2003, Mark Bradford had installations exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, on which Time Critic, Roberta Smith, wrote: “Perhaps all living artists should be allowed at least one major blooper in a corporate lobby space. If so, Mark Bradford…[is] having [his].” To the audience, the exhibit was a failure — they simply did not know how to react to his works, but to Bradford the exhibit was pivotal, even when flawed. It allowed him to realize that he needed to push himself, that he needed to try again with works that could relate, and ultimately allowed him to become one of the key players in today’s international art scene.
This reevaluation process is one which we could all learn from. Bradford often becomes “a viewer of himself.” He’s not afraid to try new concepts, mediums and styles and has a refreshing perspective on failure. Rather than stopping or changing what he’s doing, Bradford will take what he calls “an interior ‘hmmm’.”
Last week, I attended a gallery talk led by the Nasher Museum’s Curator of Contemporary Art, Trevor Schoonmaker. Trevor elaborated on Bradford’s four works of art currently on display and I fell in love with Bradford’s consistent “no regrets” mantra. Bradford’s pieces are dense — built in layers of paper, tape, string, posters, articles and a myriad of other found materials, all taking on the risk of a different composition, a different medium or even a different dimension. The thick sides of his canvas give away the process of attaching new elements, building them up and sanding them down to excavate from underneath and build up new histories. This freedom to simply “sand down what’s there,” and create a new layer on top eliminates all limitations on his creativity and allows him to keep pushing the envelope to abstraction.
The beauty of art is its forgiveness. Bradford’s works of art on display now at the Nasher Museum are incredibly powerful. For instance, my personal favorite is Red Painting where dream-catcher-like mappings reveal themselves as your eyes move over the sprawling canvas; one can almost imagine Bradford pasting, scraping and painting until his hands and clothes look like extensions of the canvas. I found myself tracing the strings with my eyes, unable to describe or understand what I was feeling from his composition, but sure that something was happening in front of my eyes. His pieces feel relevant and alive, with an energy that makes the audience reluctant to leave.
Gallery Tour with Trevor Schoonmaker