Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova, and Robin Rhode
March 29 - July 29, 2007
The Nasher Museum presents the work of three promising early career artists, who are exhibiting together for the first time. For Mark Bradford (Los Angeles), William Cordova (Lima, Miami, New York) and Robin Rhode (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Berlin), the streets of their respective cities act as fluid, living sources of inspiration. Found objects, urban vernacular and performative gestures help build a foundation for their art, including painting, works on paper, sculpture, photography, video, installation and other mixed media. Their work explores the ways that cultural territory is defined and space is transformed in urban environments. This exhibition is the first at the Nasher Museum organized by curator of contemporary art Trevor Schoonmaker.
March 29 – July 29, 2007, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
September 30, 2007 – January 6, 2008, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans
March 19, 2008- October 19, 2008, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
View images of works in the exhibition.
Trevor Schoonmaker, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum, speaks with Gail Hyman, an art history major at Duke University, about "Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode."
Gail Hyman: How did you conceive of this exhibition?
Trevor Schoonmaker: When I was hired last year, before I officially began in July 2006, I was asked if I would curate an exhibition for spring 2007. Because a year is a relatively short amount of to organize an exhibition and produce a catalogue I needed to keep the framework fairly simple. So, I conceived of a three-artist exhibition that would give each artist a lot of space to show their body of work, but would theoretically not be as complicated to organize as a larger thematic exhibition.
GH: Why did you choose these three artists? Did you have other artists in mind as well?
TS: I wanted to identify and introduce the work of some international artists who are relatively young in their careers, who I see as exciting, but who have not yet received great attention for their work. So, I made a list of artists who I thought would be interesting and who were still flying somewhat beneath the radar, but who seemed well positioned for bigger things. Also, while a three-artist exhibition is simple in format, it was important to me to create an inspired grouping of artists whose work makes sense together, but had not necessarily been exhibited together before. Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode were three artists whose work I admire, and who fit the criteria that I had in my mind. The concept of deriving inspiration from the street was a common theme among them that I focused on as the curatorial framework to tie the three artists together.
Interestingly, since I first conceived of the project last winter, these three artists have been in significant international exhibitions and received greater critical attention. Mark Bradford, for example, was the recipient of the prestigious Bucksbaum award for his work in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. William Cordova gained his first major gallery representation with Arndt & Partner in Berlin and had a very successful exhibition with them in October. And Robin Rhode won the 2006 W South Beach Artist Commission at Art Basel Miami Beach's Art Positions exhibition. So the recognition that they have each received in and of itself is exciting and rewarding.
GH: How do the respective cities of these artists help to influence their work?
TS: Mark, William and Robin incorporate an urban vernacular aesthetic effortlessly into their work because they are very connected to street cultures of their cities. They are a part of it, rather than outside observers. While they are each influenced by their specific localities, their work is relevant to any urban context. They do not create a division between so-called street art and so-called fine art in their work, which lends a special quality to the work both aesthetically and critically.
Durham is much smaller than the cities in which these artists work-why is Durham a fitting venue for this exhibition?
Durham does have a relatively small population, but it is connected culturally to larger urban communities in the United States. America's urban fashion, attitude and parlance are not the exclusive domain of big cities like Los Angeles or New York. What you see in those places you more or less see in many smaller locales. Likewise, it's an unfortunate reality that Durham suffers from the same issues of poverty and crime that many large American cities do. But Durham also holds a unique place in our country's African American history. In the 1920s it was known as "Black Wall Street" because of its pioneering black-owned financial enterprise and entrepreneurship. Today the city's African American communities make up roughly 44 percent of Durham's population, and a recent, but rapidly growing Latino immigrant community makes up another 10 percent of the population. And Durham is home to creative talents like soul and hip-hop producer Ninth Wonder, and rap artists Little Brother and Big Daddy Kane. So, culturally speaking, there are numerous connections between the communities of Durham and those of larger cities.
GH: What message do you want this show to convey?
TS: Mark, William and Robin see beauty in the city where others frequently do not - things that aren't normally seen as beautiful, but are beautiful because of the way that have been imbued with human vitality. By looking at the way these artists see their cities I think it can help us see Durham's beauty today, just as it is. If you love a city you love it for how it is today, not for what it can be tomorrow.
GH: Can you talk about how race and culture play a role in the work of these artists?
TS: Well, Mark is an African-American artist from south central Los Angeles; Robin is from Cape Town, South Africa; and William is of Afro-Peruvian heritage, born in Lima and raised in Miami. They each actively engage their cultural and racial backgrounds within their work, but at the same time their themes are universal and speak to a much broader audience than just their personal communities.
GH: The three artists are all male-do you know of a female artist who also takes inspiration from urban streets?
TS: Sure, there are many. To name a couple, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla would have made sense as an artist duo to include if they had been available in the short period I had to organize this exhibition. And Julie Mehretu creates fictional landscapes that incorporate elements of maps, urban grids, airport layouts and architecture into her paintings. But a major objective for Street Level was to introduce the work of artists who (at the time of developing the show) had received relatively little attention. Julie has had many museum exhibitions, and is very well-known, so for this project she wasn't the right fit. Furthermore, if her work were paired with the work of Mark Bradford, to me it is too easy and predictable of a visual relationship. In the end, focusing on the three artists in Street Level makes for a dynamic grouping that allows us to take a fresh, new look at their work.
GH: These three artists are not household names. They are young, urban artists whose global reputations are on the rise. Is this show - your first at the Nasher - a glimpse into your future projects here?
TS: Perhaps. I really enjoy working with artists who are not necessarily (yet) seen as the stars of the art world. They may be young in their careers, or not had the same opportunities as some others, or perhaps have had long careers, but have largely been overlooked in their contributions. Introducing something new is both exciting and rewarding to me, whether it's an unusual idea, a new body of work or a lesser-known artist. So I'll surely continue in that vein with future shows. And I am interested in connections between popular culture and fine art and will continue to investigate those. Ultimately the goal is to make contemporary art relevant to more people's lives while at the same time working with leading-edge artists and concepts. It's a challenge, but it's also what makes my job so rewarding and exciting.