The art of Mark Bradford

Sebastian Smee, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for the Boston Globe

Co-presented with the Power Institute at the University of Sydney

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Mark Bradford, Let’s Walk to the Middle of the Ocean, 2015, mixed media on canvas. Copyright Mark Bradford, courtesy of the artist and Hauser and Wirth.



Australian Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic and the University of Sydney alumnus, Sebastian Smee gives free public lecture on African American artist Mark Bradford, this year’s US Venice Biennale representative.

LECTURE ABSTRACT

Mark Bradford is an African American artist from Los Angeles, who has been chosen to represent the US at this year’s Venice Biennale. Sebastian Smee, who has just written a book on Bradford for Phaidon, will discuss Bradford’s career. He will explore, in particular, the question of whether abstract art is capable of carrying political content.

Using paper, caulk, shellac and various kinds of rope (almost all his materials are obtained from Home Depot), Bradford makes abstract “paintings,” which are really a kind of decollage, often on a massive scale. His works make use of local advertising posters that say much about the social and economic realities of his home in South Los Angeles. They also have titles that allude both to his own personal upbringing in Los Angeles and to the African American experience in general, including traumatic aspects of that experience (Hurricane Katrina, the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921). But they remain abstract, embodying a dynamic that has as much to do with concealing or breaking down legibility and meaning as revealing it.

Bradford, who is gay, explores nuances of racial and sexual politics in videos, performances, and sculptures. But these remain somewhat peripheral to his better-known abstract “paintings.” He and his partner, Allan di Castro, have also established a foundation, Art + Practice, devoted to services for foster youth as they “age out” of care. Smee will briefly discuss Art + Practice and aspects of the relationship between political art and political action.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER:

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Sebastian Smee has written extensively on Lucian Freud, and most recently is the author of The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art (2016). Smee is art critic for the Boston Globe. He has also written for The Atlantic, The Daily Telegraph (UK), The Guardian, Prospect, The Spectator, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2011 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Smee teaches non-fiction writing at Wellesley College.