Mark Bradford - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

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

  • Catalogue Essay

    Mark Bradford: Embedded with Memory and Meaning
    by Arnold Lehman

    Phillips has the marked distinction this season of offering three major works by Mark Bradford: Building "The Big White Whale", an intensely beautiful and massive map-like construction; Mixed Signals, a stunningly post-apocalyptic composition; and Untitled (Corner of Desire and Piety) III, a poignant post-Katrina commentary. Coming from a singular private collection, this is a group of extraordinarily significant works by Mark Bradford, who is today one of America’s most important artists.

    Mark Bradford’s dramatic artistic evolution and rise to critical and market prominence has been meteoric. Following his New York debut in the widely lauded Freestyle exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001, Bradford has seen his socially-aware and activist abstraction steadily gain recognition by curators, gallerists, and private collectors world-wide. In Freestyle, Bradford joined a group of artists which Thelma Golden, the curator of the exhibition and now Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, termed “Post-Black Art.” These artists are “adamant about not being labeled ‘black’ artists, though their work was steeped, in fact deeply interested, in redefining complex notions of blackness. […] They are both post-Basquiat and post-Biggie. They embrace the dichotomies of high and low, inside and outside, tradition and innovation, with a great ease and facility.” (Thelma Golden, Freestyle, exh. cat., Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2001, pp. 14-15). Freestyle was my own introduction to Mark’s amazingly intriguing and visually stunning work. I was fortunate enough to purchase, for the Brooklyn Museum, an exceptional painting of his - Jheri Now, Curl Later - from his first gallery show in New York at the Lombard-Fried Gallery, which was entitled I Don’t Think You Ready for this Jelly. The show was praised by both Holland Cotter for the New York Times and Franklin Sirmans for Time Out New York – both early indications of what was to come.

    Bradford’s striking contribution to this idea of “Post-Black Art” is the new vocabulary of materials with which he has constructed an alternate language of abstraction. Using material from his specific cultural geography, Bradford imbues his constructions with actively loaded context. Whether it is the curling end-papers, which he learned to use in his mother’s hair salon, or pieces of neighborhood posters advertising paternity testing, cheap legal advice, or other commercial enterprises specifically targeting Bradford’s community of Leimert Park in Los Angeles, each layer of his work is embedded with memory and meaning. Bradford has, in his own very specific manner, repeatedly emphasized his dedication to his abstract vocabulary. Linking to, but taking a different turn from the New York School Abstract Expressionists, Bradford connects his abstraction to what is very real to him, to what is outside his studio door, addressing issues of urban decay, renewal, empowerment and, when present, hope. This distillation of urban issues is more visually reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie than Jackson Pollock’s flung skeins of paint or David Hammons’ exceptionally insightful but often more figurative works. Much like Mondrian’s bracing, linear abstractions depicting the rapid urbanization of his time, from the first World War through the second, Bradford reflects upon and then refracts his reality, creating these intensely personal, carefully gestural, and environmentally specific work. With emotionally charged and significant alignments, such as BLACK LIVES MATTER, and an increasing racial polarization coming out of campaign rhetoric in an election year, Mark Bradford’s art is an even more stunning reminder of the power of abstraction to reveal and expose deeper truths and narratives. “I may pull the raw material from a very specific place, culturally from a particular place, but then I abstract it. I’m only really interested in abstraction; but social abstraction, not just the 1950s abstraction. The painting practice will always be a painting practice but we’re living in a post-studio world, and this has to do with the relationship with things that are going on outside.” (Mark Bradford in conversation with Susan May, Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, exh. cat. London, White Cube, 2013-14, p. 83)

    Bradford takes this impulse beyond his conceptual predecessors. His abstraction is not only “socially embedded.” Street-born ephemera is literally inserted into the rigorously multi-layered surface of his work. These remnants of the commercial bill-boards, picked by Mark from the refuse of his South Central LA neighborhood, allow us a glimpse of what Mark calls the “underbelly” of a society. These inserted glimpses, torn from the detritus, the “underbelly” of the artist’s personal psycho-geography, are both deeply-rooted and exquisitely revealed. This décollage is brilliantly exposed from layer upon layer as luminous gashes of color, history, and often anguish.

    These three exceptional works – Building the Big White Whale, Mixed Signals, and Untitled (Corner of Desire and Piety) lll are consummate examples of Bradford’s revelatory technique. An observer, recorder, collector, and tactician – a painter of the 21st century – Bradford pushes the boundaries of “contemporary” painting practice. In every major exhibition in which Bradford has been included since Freestyle in 2001 at the Studio Museum in Harlem – the 2006 Whitney Biennial; a 2010 major solo traveling exhibition, and the 2015 Inaugural Exhibition at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, among others – he has always been seen as one of the most extraordinarily original commentators of our time.

    “[Maps] document the history of power; they document the history of wars. Maps document lots of lies... Maps to me are tricky and insidious, and they’ve always fascinated me.” Mark Bradford

    Mark Bradford’s 2012 Building "The Big White Whale" is a stunning composition in both collaged and decollaged mixed media on canvas. At the same time, it is a totally immersive example of how Bradford works. A bold and massive affirmation of Bradford’s painting, and of contemporary painting itself, Building "The Big White Whale" is a deeply engaging expanse of tangled pinks, greys, and greens. It offers enveloping swaths of white and blue; juxtaposed text; and the sometimes veiled, sometimes unveiled nature of the artist’s found media in the work’s complex materiality. Growing up in Los Angeles, in the fraught neighborhood of South Central LA, and working in his mother’s hair salon, Bradford gained an intimate and intense knowledge of both the positive and harsh, human and geographic aspects of his environment, an environment whose presence is intensely felt and seen throughout his work.

    Composed of an intricate accumulation of colored paper, newsprint, and string, among other elements, Building "The Big White Whale" – resembling an ancient cartographer’s idea of the world – is a kaleidoscopic and abstract accretion of squares and striations that towers above and envelops the viewer in the artist’s/cartographer’s world. Bradford does not simply paint and collage. He gouges, tears, cuts, pulls, and sands the surface of the canvas. This distressed appearance heightens the extent to which Building "The Big White Whale" appears rooted in the urban landscape of Bradford’s world - his native Los Angeles. In this work, he has brilliantly abstracted the refuse of urban life to serve as fictitious maps charting our contemporary experience.

    Mark Bradford has established his place among the most innovative, intelligent, and talented painters of the 21st century and Building the Big White Whale is one of the most powerful works in his career. Conceived on a scale as grand and grandiose as Los Angeles itself, Building "The Big White Whale" speaks to the ability of art and artist to embody and reflect their life and their time. Through the genius of the artist, this majestic canvas – built up, sanded down, layered over, cut away – reflects life itself.

  • 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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Property of a Private American Collector

Ο ◆7

Building "The Big White Whale"

mixed media collage on canvas
104 1/4 x 144 1/4 in. (264.8 x 366.4 cm)
Initialed, titled and dated "Building the White Whale 2012 M" on the reverse.

$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $3,525,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016