Black Venus

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  • Provenance

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

  • Exhibited

    Columbus, The Ohio State University, Wexner Center for the Arts; Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Dallas Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mark Bradford, May 8, 2010 - May 20, 2012, no. 14, pp. 114, 227 (detail illustrated, p. 94; illustrated, n.p.)

  • Literature

    Dorothy Spears, "Hoop Dreams of His Own Design," New York Times, December 12, 2010 (illustrated, online)
    Elena Martinique, "Mark Bradford at Venice Biennale 2017 as the US Representative," Whitewalls, April 19, 2016 (illustrated, online)
    Jonathan Griffin, "Mark Bradford: That’s not gonna happen," ArtReview, May 2017 (illustrated, online)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I am an artist that paints with paper.” – Mark Bradford

    “I always think my life depends on every painting. Every painting is my first painting.” – Mark Bradford

    Past, present and future collide as a twisting grid of black, red, blue and yellow rectangles detonates across the surface in Mark Bradford’s Black Venus, 2005. Residing for over a decade in the esteemed Berezdivin Collection, Black Venus evokes the irregular urban sprawl of Bradford’s native Los Angeles. Evidencing the full, electrifying force of an artist at the precipice of being recognized as one of the greatest painters of his generation, this exhilarating work belongs to the handful of paintings Bradford created in the mid-2000s that includes Los Moscos, 2004, Tate Modern, London, and Scorched Earth, 2006, Broad Museum, Los Angeles. This celebrated group of works signaled a dramatic shift in Bradford’s oeuvre, evidencing his first engagement with the vernacular of map-making and his now signature approach of creating paintings from paper detritus salvaged from the streets of Los Angeles. As one of the first works that Bradford created via this laborious process, Black Venus pulsates with an immediacy and physicality as the explosive web of Bradford’s material spreads like a living organism across the vast surface, simultaneously revealing and obscuring the underlying black strata below. Iconic for its time and place, Black Venus is as deeply topical as it is autobiographical.

    Bradford’s ascent has been as awe-inspiring as deserving: from first critical attention in Freestyle at the Studio Museum Harlem in 2001, to his first solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2007, to his most recent installation at the 2017 Venice Biennial as the first African American artist to represent the United States. Black Venus’s acute placement within this broader trajectory makes Diana and Moises Berezdivin’s early and ardent support of Bradford even more so striking. The esteemed Puerto Rico-based collectors acquired Black Venus the same year of its creation, which coincidentally also marked the public debut of their collection at Espacio 1414. Their prescient acquisition of Black Venus was recognized in 2010 when the work was selected for inclusion in Bradford’s first major travelling exhibition organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus.

    Critical of the ways in which the annals of art history divorced abstract art from its political context, particularly when looking at the Abstract Expressionists working in the 1950s, Bradford has endeavored to “make abstract painting and imbue it with policy, and political, and gender, and race, and sexuality” (Mark Bradford, quoted in “Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford”, Denver Art Museum, 2017, online). Taking the Abstract Expressionists modes of representation, and harnessing its potentiality for his own agenda, Bradford’s formal language carries the same gravitas as Clyfford Still’s jagged edges and electrifying flashes of color or Jackson Pollock’s action-infused compositions – but does so in a way that is quintessentially in the here and now, deeply rooted in our everyday existence. Indeed Bradford’s pursuit of what he has termed “social abstraction”, that is, “abstract art with a social or political context clinging to the edges”, is deeply indebted to his choice of materials that allows him to imbue his works with a proliferation of readings, from art historical, to political, to autobiographical (Mark Bradford, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “What Else Can Art Do?”, The New Yorker, June 22, 2015, online).

    The invisible world lurking beneath Bradford’s surface is heightened by his distinct process that can be likened to the physical activity of excavation. Despite the fact that Bradford is known for making paintings out of found printed material, his works only reveal glimpses of their original documentary intent. Working in the lineage of the Dadaists and the Nouveau Réalisme movement, Bradford honed a refined technique of a décollage, a process defined by cutting, tearing away or otherwise removing, pieces of an original image. Bradford builds Black Venus’s intricate composition through an ongoing process of obscuring and revealing that recalls the palimpsests achieved in Gerhard Richter’s most extraordinary abstracts. By covering the canvas with multiple layers of printed material while simultaneously sanding and caulking other sections to recover underlying structures that would otherwise remain hidden, Bradford creates a landscape that exploits the tension between image and surface to a similar effect as that of Jasper Johns’ encaustic works. The visual layering within Black Venus invites the viewer to interrogate whether it is the abstracted object represented or those individual elements which constitute its facture that should be read.

    Bradford’s choice of material has always been deeply connected to his biography and everyday existence. While Bradford’s early work utilized end-papers, the use of which was inspired by time at his mother’s hair salon, Black Venus evidences the dramatic shift from 2003 in Bradford’s practice toward paper material sourced on the streets of his immediate neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Given the deep connection Bradford has to his materials it is no surprise then that the very facture of his art should demonstrate his sustained and enduring engagement. Bradford builds his intricate compositions in quick bursts over a prolonged period of time: working intuitively without a preparatory drawing, he repeatedly covers the canvas with signage, posters, discarded advertising, and other materials peeled off billboards, while fixing these layers with thick-and thin-gauge twine that he sands back to construct a dense network of lines. It is deeply physical work that, coupled with the scale of the work, forces Bradford to traverse the breadth of the picture plane repeatedly, much like Pollock’s navigation of his canvas as he flung his paint. As Bradford notes of his choice of material, “I am an artist that paints with paper… I begin to take these materials and form what I consider painting, sculptural painting” (Mark Bradford, quoted in “Mark Bradford Painting with Paper”, Hirshhorn Museum, February 15, 2018, online video). Gouged and torn, the papers bear witness to the artist’s adroit ability to make destruction a fundamental ingredient for creation.

    Though the specific geographic history Bradford was interested in exploring with this work was that of Baldwin Hills, the South Central neighborhood known for its predominantly affluent black households, ultimately, historical moments and geography are only a starting point for a broader conceptual interrogation of racial and economic geographies. It is above all through his pioneering use and transformation of materials that Bradford conceptually and physically builds the multiplicities and complexities of lived experience into his work. Indeed the meandering curvatures that weave out of his pulsing and eddying mass of material seem to echo the city’s infamous freeways that reinforce the economic and racial borders of Los Angeles neighborhoods.

    While Bradford regards paper as a “metaphor for skin”, the printed material utilized also alludes to what Bradford described as the “invisible underbelly of the community” (Mark Bradford, quoted in Katy Siegel, “Somebody and Nobody”, Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 2010, p. 114). The layering of local merchant posters in particular refers to an urban phenomenon specific to Los Angeles following the violent LA Riots of 1992, incited after LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of an unarmed African-American motorist. Following the sweeping damage and destruction of many stores and businesses in South Central Los Angeles, plywood structures and cyclone fencing erected around or in place of buildings were soon plastered with layers upon layers of advertisements. In Black Venus, Bradford also begins to use rectangular pieces of solid black paper, which act as metaphors for the invisible economy of post-1992 Los Angeles: “Everything shut down at six o’clock after the civil unrest…Well, to merchants, six o’clock was just not going to work…So what a lot of people did was put up black out curtains…Every business was open but it became this invisible economy” (Mark Bradford, quoted in Katy Siegel, “Somebody and Nobody”, Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 2010, p. 115).

    Irreverently referencing both the vernacular of abstraction of mapmaking and the autonomous grid of Modernism, Black Venus puts forth a psychological urban portrait that remains open-ended and constantly in flux. This commitment to “slippage” parallels the fluidity of identity characteristic of Los Angeles, that sprawling metropolis restructured by such events as the aggressive reorganization of the city by way of the highways in the 1950s, the burning of Watts in 1965, or the riot uprising of 1992, among many others. Even Baldwin Hills, the neighborhood Bradford took as his point of departure, is no longer a singularly black neighborhood as an influx of affluent young, multi-cultural families has brought about a process of gentrification. In Black Venus, the complex dialectic of appearance and disappearance, loss and gain, past and present coalesce into a dynamic, propagating composition that visualizes the constant flux and fluidity of contemporary experience – one that has timeless resonance in our current socio-political climate. Bradford has remarked that “the genus I’m always interested in is change” (Mark Bradford, quoted in Katy Siegel, “Somebody and Nobody”, Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 2010, p. 113). In Black Venus’s crystallization of his ambition, it becomes at once timeless and all the more prescient than the day it was conceived.

Ο ◆11

Property from the Berezdivin Collection

Black Venus

mixed media collage
124 x 182 in. (315 x 462.3 cm.)
Executed in 2005.

Estimate
$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

sold for $6,052,500

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018