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  • Provenance

    Lombard-Freid Fine Arts, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Private Collection, Switzerland

  • Exhibited

    Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Mark Bradford, May 8 – October 10, 2010, then traveled to Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art (November 19, 2010 – March 13, 2011), Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (May 28 – September 18, 2011), Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art (October 16, 2011 – January 15, 2012), San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (February 18 – May 20, 2012)

  • Literature

    C. Bedford, Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 2010, pl. 3 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “What painters fetishize—surface and translucence—I learned all about that through architecture and the sides of buildings. I understand transparency because of the erosion of paper."

    MARK BRADFORD, 2009

    Mark Bradford’s But You Better Not Get Old from 2003 is a monumental work of collaged permanent-wave end paper, "materials with a built-in history," in the words of the artist, aggregated and distressed to form the ethereal yet tactile surface that has become the artist’s unique signature. Both of and about Bradford's world, this large-scale painting captures the urban decay that defines the Los Angeles sprawl of Bradford's Leimert Park neighborhood. Created during the years of the artist's initial rise to fame in the early 2000s, But You Better Not Get Old is an exceptional example of Bradford's innovative and intuitive process, which results in textured abstractions that serve to both obscure and obviate the artist’s personal history and his recognition and perception of the histories of his surrounds.

    Bradford spent a significant amount of time while growing up working in his mother’s hair salon, an experience which served as a sort of training ground and orientation for the artist’s aesthetic sensibilities. This impressive work is comprised of permanent-wave end papers, the small, diaphanous sheets of paper used in the hair salon business. The papers are used by stylists to wrap the hair around a small rod after which it is chemically and heat treated in order to establish the Jheri curl style popularized by the likes of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Being as thin as they are, these papers come thousands to a pack, and Bradford here has torched them in order to obtain the singed edge around each piece. Each fragile paper develops its own particular color, the charred edges forming dark lines to frame the translucent squares. Bradford then assembled a wealth of these papers across the composition's body, creating linear striations that would be nearly impossible to draw by hand. Chains of squares proliferate vertically and horizontally, interspersed with reproductions of the wave end papers that Bradford has painstakingly photocopied. The resulting effect is a multilayered assembly of translucent and opaque elements in smoky gradations of yellow, black, beige and gray.

    Ghostly in their presence, and yet physically attainable, the papers have a very specific immediacy. Layered and opaque now, they allude to a history both of the artist and of the artwork’s own creation. As a boy working in his mother’s salon, Bradford was instructed to always keep moving, never to doubt a move because it could always be corrected or amended in some way or another. As he states, “There will be a dilemma, and I can kind of fix it. Yeah, it’s the same: I do that with the art, I do it with everything…with everything. My work is all like heads of hair.[…] It’s the same thing with my paintings. The work simply has to embody a certain energy, and I know exactly when it has it.” (M. Bradford in conversation with C. Eliel from C. Bedford (ed.), Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, 2010, p. 60)

    Bradford’s work with these papers was, in the words of Christopher Bedford, “a calculated way to enter the deeply freighted historical conversation of abstract painting from a vantage point that was pointedly grounded in his social experience and that forced the hermeticism of abstraction to account for the unrelenting specificity of his materials.” (C. Bedford, “Against Abstraction,” in C. Bedford (ed.), Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, 2010, p. 14) Instead of arriving at his compositions through some overly strategic academic posturing, or expressionist intuition, Bradford mines the social and functional specificity of his surrounds and materials. There can be existential sublimity in these physically and materially immediate “paintings” whose sole existence is predicated on the ability to unpack the artist’s history by successfully and sequentially peeling back the layers of the composition, ultimately arriving at its inherent worldliness.

    The world of Bradford’s art is, as it was for many of the early modern masters, the city. However, this is not the frenetic European urbanism of the interwar period, but rather the diverse and diffuse sprawl of South Central Los Angeles as epitomized by other contemporary masters such as Los Angeles’ own Ed Ruscha. According to Robert Storr, “Bradford incrementally and provisionally charts an emerging and expansive reality while looking to a future in which the local and the regional dissolve into a new sublime that reproduces itself everywhere cities remake themselves and exceed their limits faster than planners can plan them or conventional cartographers can record their spontaneous mutations.” (R.Storr, “And what I assume you shall assume…” in C. Bedford (ed.), Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, 2010, p. 46)

    Clearly, what Mark Bradford has achieved in works such as But You Better Not Get Old is an incredibly rich visual abstraction simultaneously saturated with self-evident personal and regional histories. His Leimert Park neighborhood and the social atmosphere of the hair salon, the culture, which Bradford has absorbed so thoroughly in his having lived and continuing to work there, finds itself reflected and ensconced in his canvases. Even in its title, a line taken from Randy Crawford and The Crusaders’ 1979 hit “Street Life”, alludes to Bradford’s intractable connection to, and appreciation for, his community. The visual rhythm and compositional lyricism of the work elevate its mesmerizing abstraction, grounding it in its worldliness, while Bradford himself invites the viewer to come inside, to experience and listen, see and be seen, just as he has.

  • Artist Biography

    Mark Bradford

    American • 1961

    Now acclaimed worldwide, Mark Bradford was first recognized on the contemporary art scene in 2001, following the inclusion of his multi-layered collage paintings in Thelma Golden’s Freestyle exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The groundbreaking exhibition introduced him alongside 27 other emerging African American artists as part of a generation of "post-Black" artists who sought to transcend the label of "Black artist”, while still deeply exploring and re-defining the complex notions of blackness. Bradford’s ascent has been as awe-inspiring as it is deserving: from critical attention in Freestyle, to his first solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2007, to his installation at the 2017 Venice Biennial as the first African American artist to represent the United States.

    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”. 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 allow him to imbue his works with a proliferation of readings, from art historical, to political, to autobiographical.

    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, in the mid-2000s the artist shifted towards using paper material sourced on the streets of his immediate neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Despite the fact that Bradford is known for making paintings out of found printed material, his works only reveals 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.

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13

But You Better Not Get Old

2003
photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, permanent-wave end papers and additional mixed media on canvas
72 x 84 in. (183 x 213.5 cm.)

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,205,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM