Mark Bradford: A Truly Rich Man

Image: Mark Bradford, Scorched Earth, 2006.
Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White.

A Truly Rich Man
by KP Dawes
Chicago-based writer and editor

In our collective psyche, South Central Los Angeles represents the failures of the American dream. A sun bleached slum, awash in drug addicts, prostitutes and the gangs that feed off them. It is a neighborhood representative of everything wrong in urban society. Its name is synonymous with gun violence, corruption and of course, the riots.

South Central has come a long way since the summer of 1992. Although poverty rates are still high and crime remains a problem, it is also one of the most vibrant city neighborhoods in the nation. It is the neighborhood where artist Mark Bradford grew up and lives and works till this day.

Mark Bradford’s work, coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art May 28th through September 18th, is a reflection of South Central and by extension the urban condition. Spanning the years 2001 to 2010, the exhibition features work in all media, sculpture, painting and video being most prominent.

Bradford is a modern urban explorer, walking the streets of his majority Latino city to find inspiration for his works. Sometimes this comes in the form of ads found in the street. Sometimes out of the texture of graffiti covered overpasses. Sometimes in the simple grit and gravity of the city itself.

There is definitely symbolism in Bradford’s work. There too at times is even direct politicism. Clear and stark reminders of America’s troubling relationship to race, gender sex and poverty. We are reminded of the African American experience. Of the building tension between blacks and Latinos. About sexual bigotry and exploitation. But where the artist is most remarkable is in pure abstraction. Large, dark collages, mixed of old poster paper, blackened, bleached and bloodied. They are at once both distant maps and the inner flashes of an unforgiving concrete landscape. These collages, or paintings as Bradford calls them, are crowded and desolate, reflecting the urban contradiction of isolation among millions of people.

Bradford’s work is so new because it is so familiar. Because his paintings celebrate all that it means to know the despair of the city. Any city. South Central Los Angeles made Bradford, but his voice is that of Gotham. The modern American temple of steel and stone. A place of collapsing infrastructure and crumbling neighborhoods, where old racial tensions do war against the promises of prosperity. Where gentrification and modernization destroy what once stood and where Spanish can be heard rising like the rumble of a coming earthquake. It is the pain of what was and the fear of what’s coming.

In this way South Central ceases to become the exception and becomes the rule. It is the stand-in for all that is bad and all that is good. What this means we as the viewer must decide.

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May 28 – September 18
Mark Bradford
Museum of Contemporary Art
220 E Chicago Ave.