Mark Bradford, Untitled (Shoe), 2003. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White, 2010.

Mark Bradford, Potable Water, 2005. Collection of Hunter Gray. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Mark Bradford, James Brown is Dead, 2007. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; purchased with funds provided by Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., 479.2007. Photo courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Mark Bradford, Layered Insights into Urban Space, Black Men, and Music

Mark Bradford, Taking Up the Cross, 2009. Collection of Bridgitt and Bruce Evans. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

Mark Bradford, Value 47, 2009-10. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

Mark Bradford, WEAR THE BRACELET, 2008. Collection of Adam and Iris Singer. Photo: Bruce M. White, 2010.

Mark Bradford, Scorched Earth, 2006. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Mark Bradford, Smokey, 2003. Collection of Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Mark Bradford, Strawberry, 2002. Collection of Barbara and Bruce Berger. Photo: Bruce M. White, 2010.

Mark Bradford, Grey Gardens, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.


Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue

Mark Bradford
May 28-September 18, 2011

Mark Bradford is the first museum survey devoted to one of the leading figures in contemporary art. Bradford is best known for his collage-layered paintings that express the energy and poetry of life in the city, particularly Los Angeles where the artist lives and works. A recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Foundation Award, Bradford uses found materials to create his vibrant, textured compositions: peeling movie posters, homemade flyers, salvaged plywood, and even the endpapers used to perm hair. Drawing from pop culture, identity politics, the history of collage, mapping, and abstract painting, Mark Bradford features over 35 works of art including painting, sculpture, installation, and video spanning the past decade.

MCA Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn says, “This summer, we are presenting the work of Mark Bradford — a powerful exhibition that does nothing less than make us rethink contemporary painting. Mark’s artistic method of recovering neglected items and restoring them to some other potential asks us, as observers of art and as human beings, to look, and look again, at those things which we would otherwise neglect, and see in them the potential for revival and meaning.

Mark’s gift for mixing message with medium led us to take his work outside the gallery and into the community through a series of projects under the collective umbrella of The Mark Bradford Project. More than an art exhibition, The Mark Bradford Project is an extension into the places where our community gathers — both physically and virtually — and allows us to explore the limitless possibilities of connections and interactions.”

Originally organized by Christopher Bedford, Chief Curator of Exhibitions at Wexner Center for the Arts, the MCA presentation is coordinated by MCA Associate Curator Tricia Van Eck. Offering an overview of the main themes in Bradford’s art from 2000 to 2010, the exhibition includes urban space, music, black men and popular culture, and the fate of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. One of the earliest works in the show is Enter and Exit the New Negro (2001), a minimalist canvas made from perm endpapers — a material often used in the straightening of African-American hair. Lined against each other in rows, the endpapers form an elegant, white and gray grid that references the history of abstraction as well as African-American culture. The work is also autobiographical as the endpapers were gathered from the hair salon that Bradford’s mother owned and where the artist worked while growing up. This multi-dimensionality is typical of Bradford’s compositions.

In 2002, Bradford incorporated “merchant posters” — signs plastered on abandoned public spaces in his neighborhood that advertise DNA testing, low-cost divorce, or money-making schemes that take a community’s pulse: networks, underground economies, changing demographics. Music has also been a source of inspiration to the artist throughout his career, and he often gives his works evocative titles that allude to 1990s hip-hop or other musical sources. A new multimedia installation of black paper, light bulbs, and sound, Pinocchio Is On Fire (2010), reflects a deeper meditation on music and musicians and the roles they play in our society. Conceived for this exhibition, it immerses the viewer in the Kovler Atrium. In this installation, Bradford uses the persona of the recently deceased soul legend Teddy Pendergrass much as he uses his other materials — an image left behind, ready to be deconstructed, altered, and reincorporated into something new. The exhibition also includes Detail (2009-10), and a detail of the ark Mithra, which he built for Prospect 1, the New Orleans Biennale.

Mark Bradford was born in 1961 and lives and works in his native Los Angeles, California. He earned his BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Bradford has received many awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship (2009); Bucksbaum Award (2006); the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2003); and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2002). His work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions at such venues as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.

The Mark Bradford Project A unique feature of the MCA Chicago’s presentation of the Mark Bradford exhibition is a yearlong creative residency that builds on the MCA’s long history of working with artists, and exemplifying the artist-activated, audience-engaged MCA vision. The Mark Bradford Project is a new endeavor that connects the artist with various Chicago communities to interact around the creative process. Over the course of a year, Bradford serves as a catalyst for ongoing discussions and community engagement projects, including interactions with students at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and teenagers in the Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia program. The theme of mapping, which Bradford explores in many of his paintings, serves as a unifying thread for these projects and discussions.

Lindblom Math and Science Academy is a public high school in Chicago’s Englewood area and a member of the MCA’s Partner School program, a ten-year-old program supported by the Polk Bros Foundation that creates in-depth three-year partnerships between the MCA and Chicago public high schools. Bradford and the Lindblom teens are collaborating to create a multi-faceted project centered on mapping identity and how it is shaped by music, fashion, and points of origin.

YOUmedia is an innovative, 21st-century learning space for teens housed at the Chicago Public Library's downtown Harold Washington Library Center. Their goal is to support young people in working with digital media and online resources to better engage with their neighborhoods, the city, and the world. While they typically use literary works as a starting point for their special projects, they have embraced Bradford’s work as the inspiration and framework for what they call Mark Bradford Mondays.

One of the key components of The Mark Bradford Project is the launch of the MCA’s first blog to document and disseminate the project. The blog presents weekly episodes using photos, video and audio clips, and written entries from a wide roster of guest bloggers -- including students, mentors, educators, collectors, artists, and Mark Bradford himself, among many others. The blog creates a virtual community who can engage and participate in the dialogue with Bradford and the MCA. The Mark Bradford Project Blog is at

Mark Bradford, Method Man, 2004. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Mark Bradford, Luma, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

Mark Bradford. Photo by Fredrik Nilsen.

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety, 2008. The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

Mark Bradford, The Devil Is Beating His Wife, 2003. The Saatchi Gallery, London. Photo: Bruce M. White, 2010.

Mark Bradford, Across Canal, 2009-10. Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.