Through a signature collage process, Los Angeles-based artist Mark Bradford abstracts the geographic, political, and socioeconomic landscape of American cities. He composes his works by affixing found materials—such as billboard posters—to canvas, often searching his South Los Angeles neighborhood for signage and rooting his work in the realities of urban life. In his mixed-media compositions, paper replaces paint and is often torn, glued, sanded, and saturated with water to create a malleable pulp: materials that cling to the city are repurposed and given a renewed agency. While formally furthering the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, Bradford’s work has a unique cartographic quality that visualizes how communities are mapped or quantified. Through his use of materials, Bradford’s form of abstraction looks outward to respond to the charged social milieu in which they are made.
CAM presents the museum debut of Receive Calls on Your Cell Phone From Jail (2013), a grid of thirty-eight paintings comprising posters that convey the challenges surrounding receiving collect calls from prison on one’s cell phone. Many cell phone providers restrict subscribers from receiving collect calls, making this act of communication sometimes illegal and often difficult to enact, further isolating incarcerated individuals from the outside world. Exhibited on CAM’s sixty-foot-long Project Wall, the installation can be “read” from left to right, embodying a melancholic passage of time. Bradford builds up and then tears down these work’s surfaces, asking viewers to consider how incarcerated people might feel consumed, abandoned, and discarded by the criminal justice system.
Also on view, in the Front Room, is Bradford’s single-channel video Practice (2003), which depicts the artist playing basketball on an outdoor court. Wearing a makeshift outfit that includes a Los Angeles Lakers uniform and a voluminous antebellum-style hoop skirt, Bradford is impeded by both the wind and the physical constraints of his cumbersome wardrobe. He repeatedly stumbles and falls, only to recover and continue shooting baskets. Imbued with humor, irony, and absurdity, Practice demonstrates a determination to persevere in the face of cultural, gender, and racial obstacles, both past and present.
Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, 3750 Washington Blvd