Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mark Bradford

Los Angeles–based artist Mark Bradford, a former hairdresser who is perhaps best known for employing end papers and other materials found in hair salons in his collages, continues to investigate the reaches of urban abstraction in “Nobody Jones,” his second solo exhibition at this gallery. These large-scale works, created by the additive and subtractive processes of collage and décollage, as well as with paint, read like aerial views of contorting, mutating, and decaying cities whose tiny, intricate street grids can no longer maintain their structural integrity against unknown, epic forces (overcrowding, corruption, disease?). Bradford sometimes wanders off this trope by veering toward the topographic—Boreas (all works 2007), dominated by silver surfaces, very much resembles a polar ice cap—but for the most part, his concerns remain anchored in the urban predicament. In Ghost Money, an enormous allegorical city mass, cut off from all else, approaches the continental in scale; within its vortex are pieces of advertisements, which, like the painting’s title, reference the machinations at work in the undocumented, under-the-table business transactions that power the city. All collage raises questions about reuse, but Bradford’s improvisational command of these large areas is also able to suggest the formidable energies of mass consumption and, perhaps more important, its counterpart, the mass generation of trash.

In the back room, one finds perhaps the only recognizable collage remnant in the whole show: a magazine image of a basketball placed at the heart of a dense lattice of black streets in Orbit. The image recalls Basquiat’s iconographies of black sports heroes, but Bradford’s treatment is far more ambivalent; after all, is the dream connoted by the basketball a beacon of hope or a false promise of the easiest exit from the inner city?

In Stereo Boxes and Pallet—nine stacked boxes whose surfaces have been distressed and worked over into stark white surfaces, with traces of the original imagery peeking through, Bradford extends his grid trope into the third dimension. Reminiscent of Warhol’s Brillo boxes, the makeshift tower stands as a reminder that no (commercial) object can escape its narrative, even if, as in this case, it has been given a new one.

—Debora Kuan

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