Exhibition Review: Mark Bradford

Mission St., San Francisco

The Venues

On my most recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area I attended the show Mark Bradford. It is being presented as a collaboration between San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), two Bay Area arts institutions. This co-presentation of the work, although not the first occurrence, represents an interesting partnership between two very different organizations. While SFMOMA has a longer history in San Francisco, being founded in 1935, YBCA is the product of a redevelopment project that began in the eighties. Now across the street from one another, the two organizations are as different as their histories. SFMOMA takes a much more traditional museum approach, while YBCA, without a permanent collection, represents a more innovative contemporary arts institution that,   “bridges the seemingly contradictory worlds of pop culture, contemporary art, and community aesthetics.” [i] While both YBCA and SFMOMA present pieces by Bradford within a common show, my experience of the works at the two venues was completely distinct, perhaps allowing for a more whole encounter with the artist’s work.

The Artist

Mark Bradford was born in 1961 in Los Angeles where he continues to live and work. He attended CalArts in Los Angeles for both his BFA and MFA degrees. His work draws on materials from his surroundings incorporated into collage and painting. Some of his initial materials included remnants of products from his mother’s hair salon and went on to include additional sourced materials found in his Los Angeles neighborhood. While collage and painting remain his primary mediums, he has created video, photography and sculptural pieces.

The Visit

Third Floor Landing, SFMOMA, San Francisco

I started the morning by heading first to SFMOMA, which already had a line of visitors (mostly school groups) waiting to enter. I have never entered a museum at its opening and it felt completely full of potential; I was only slightly aware of Bradford’s work at the cusp of this visit and was excited for what I would find. I went straight upstairs to the Bradford exhibition and immediately as I arrived on the third floor, came across a very large arrangement of painted and collaged canvases which were arranged together, with small gaps, to create a single composition. The physicality of his work was apparent in the sheer size as well as the texture of the piece which included what looked like foil that had been traced onto. The gaps between each of the smaller canvases contributed to the collaged nature of the work, looking like an collection of smaller pieces. I took a picture.

Mark Bradford, SFMOMA, San Francisco

Next  I entered the main area of the exhibition which began with a room that displayed several records and a record player playing a loud recording. I tried to take a picture but despite my previous success was immediately scolded by one of the many guards who were on duty. There were quite a few other museum visitors about as well. The subsequent rooms featured mostly very large scale paintings and collages, usually only one per wall, three or four to room. Every piece seemed to take up an entire wall to itself. Each work exhibited a very material, textual presence exemplified by the use of layers upon layers of billboard paper, posters and signs as well as other scavenged materials representative of the kind of signage and paper-turned-waste found in and around South Central, Los Angeles. The work created a vocabulary of images, words, typography, and things that are critical actors in the landscape of this neighborhood. Together the materials recall Jane Bennett’s writing on assemblages, which “are living, throbbing confederations… [that] have uneven topographies… [and] are not governed by any central head,” going on to state that, “Each member and proto-member of the assemblage has a certain vital force, but there is also an effectivity proper to the grouping as such” [ii] which is interpreted in the meaning in each collage. As stated by SFMOMA curator, Gary Garrels, “the works seen here draw largely on fragments from these environments, such as permanent-wave endpapers, posters, acrylic, billboard paper, and photomechanical reproductions, in order to evoke in both materials and meaning, the social and political realities of contemporary urban life—particularly in South Central, where Bradford continues to maintain his studio.” [iii]

While the majority of the works were the type of collages and paintings described above, there was one video work presented. It showed a man from the neighborhood, being followed by Bradford as he walks down the street, allowing us an image of the human actors in this landscape. As he walked, one could see paper on the ground and the walls that demonstrates the link between the found materials on the canvases and the experience of traversing those streets.

Mark Bradford, YBCA, San Francisco

After leaving SFMOMA, I headed over to YBCA for the next set of works by Bradford. YBCA was not nearly as packed. In fact, there were no other visitors, or museum guards in the room dedicated to Bradford while I was there. The lighting was less bright and I felt more intimate with the work, getting closer to the canvases than across the street at SFMOMA. The first room had just a few works, namely: another large canvas, a large wooden ark, Mithra, that took the grand scale of the previous works to greater dimensions, as well as a video of Bradford working on the ark. The ark was physically overwhelming, right in the center of the room, covered with billboard paper and other materials like in the other work, yet this time, the paper was peeling off on many of the edges. Only a section of the original work created in reaction to the events of Hurricane Katrina, its size dominated the room and its rough plywood and peeling paper reminded of the materiality of the work. The video of the ark in progress connected visitors to the process of assembling the materials and labor involved. It was the perfect culmination to the experience of Bradford’s work and process.

Mark Bradford, YBCA, San Francisco

[i]  “History | Yerba Buena Center for the Arts”, http://www.ybca.org/about/history. Apr. 25, 2012

[ii] Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. p. 23-24.

[iii] Garrels, Gary. “Mark Bradford”. Curators Notes. Mark Bradford. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco 2012

The Internet of Things Inside You

The readings this week reminded me of a piece that was on “On the Media” in January. Hugo Campos had to fight to get the data from a defibrillator that was implanted into his heart. Now he’s become an advocate for patients like him. He jokingly calls it Occupy Health.


You can read the transcript for the interview here. Or listen to it here.



Show Me Your TV Screen

Folks of the materiality world,

For a part of my final exhibition, I’m attempting to collect as many photos as possible of televisions in the home.  If you would like to help out, please send a photo of the television in its domestic place in your apartment or house.  If you don’t personally have one, I’ll accept a photo of your roommate’s/parent’s/grandparent’s/landlord’s instead.

AND if you don’t actually have a TV but still watch “TV” on some sort of futuristic device like a laptop or iPad or technologically advanced projection screen, snap a photo of that for its still counts!  So whether you’re watching TV via the cathode ray tube or liquid crystal display (they both still illuminate the room with that blue filtered light), send me what you have.  Just be sure it has a “TV” image displaying.

Send an image to kasue753@newschool.edu.

Here’s my TV:

Edmund's TV


Objects of Affection Conference @ Princeton, May 4-6


May 4-6, 2012
Princeton University
219 Aaron Burr Hall

In the first issue of the journal Veshch-Objet-Gegenstand, which appeared 90 years ago in Berlin, the avant-gardist El Lissitsky placed the object at the center of the artistic and social concerns of the day: “We have called our review Object because for us art means the creation of new ‘objects.’ … Every organized work—be it a house, a poem or a picture—is an object with a purpose; it is not meant to lead people away from life but to help them to organize it. … Abandon declarations and refutations as soon as possible, make objects!”

Ultimately, only three issues of Veshch-Objet-Gegenstand would be published, but the journal’s project to cultivate object as a primary tool of social organization clearly touched upon broader concerns of its time. At the end of the 1920s, Sergei Tret’iakov, a leading theorist of Russian production art, similarly insisted on abandoning the traditional fascination with individual trials and tribulations and to concentrate instead on the biography of the object that proceeds “through the system of people.” Only such a biography, Tret’iakov maintained, can teach us about “the social significance of an emotion by considering its effect on the object being made.”

Taking the Russian avant-garde’s concern with the material life of emotions as our starting point, the conference brings together an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars working at the intersection between studies of affect and studies of material culture. In the last decade, these two crucial strands of social inquiry have shifted the focus of analytic attention away from the individual or collective subject towards emotional states and material substances. These interests in the affective and the tangible as such have helped to foreground processes, conditions, and phenomena that are relatively autonomous from the individuals or social groups that originally produced them. Thus interrogating traditional notions of subjective agency, various scholars have drawn our attention to “a conative nature” of things (Jane Bennet), to “affective intensities” (Brian Massumi), or to textural perception (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick) – to name just a few of these interventions – in order to pose questions that fall outside of dominant frameworks for understanding the epistemology of power.

Despite their growing importance, however, these diverse methods and concepts for mapping the emotive biographies of things have not yet been in a direct dialogue with one another. By focusing on the material dimensions of affect and, conversely, the emotional components of object formation, this conference aims to bridge this gap.

Instagram & the Photographic Object

…you take your pristine high-tech photo and damage it, messing up its tonal balance, vignetting it, discoloring it. Why would anyone want to do that? Well, simple novelty, but novelty passes. The filters (like those on Hipstamatic and other photo apps) also compensate for an amateur shutterbug’s spotty craftsmanship, shifting emphasis from the composition and content to the treatment. But the real draw goes deeper than that. Instagram is tapping the sense—a sense that has almost been lost—that a photograph is itself a precious object….

More in Christopher Bonanos, “Instantly OldNew York Magazine (April 13, 2012).

Some Marginalia

I meant to post this after our class the other day about “books.”  I expressed a little disgust on the idea of a “comments section” in ebooks, which seems to be an inevitable future.  It’s a sort of global marginalia.  I have a love/hate relationship with marginalia (though I enjoy to say the word “marginalia.)  Sometimes it’s like folk art and sometimes it gives you a glimpse at the history of the copy of  the book and its previous owners.  Sometimes, it’s just irritating.  Here is my used copy of Meditations by Descartes that I’ve had for a couple of years.  I pick it up every now and then to give my mind unnecessary agitation.

As you can see, besides underlining nearly every sentence, J. Facciolo filled the margins with his pencil notes.  It’s a hard enough text to get through on its own, but I have to deal with J.’s thoughts on the matter too.  I guess there’s a reason I’ve kept it after all of these years and haven’t taken an eraser to the margins.  One reason is probably just that I irrationally refuse to get rid of books.  The other reason is that I find some sort of sick enjoyment reading a book with J. instead of completely by myself.  It’s just me, Descartes, and J. until this book is burned in the dystopian sci-fi future.  And sometimes he makes a decent point.

Reading the Invisible Text

via http://bit.ly/HN9WBG

via “The Case of the Blind Woman and Her Invisible Manuscript,” New York Times (April 15, 2012).

When she went blind as a result of diabetes, Trish Vickers set out to fill the void in her life by writing poetry. Then she turned to writing a novel, her pen guided by a system of elastic bands stretched across the paper. With 26 pages written, and a plot that turned on a woman whose life implodes, she began to dream of finding a publisher.

Then the dream imploded, too. When her son Simon visited her at her home, near the town of Lyme Regis in the Thomas Hardy country of Dorset, she showed him what she had written, and he gave her the bad news: Every page was blank. Her pen had run out of ink before she began, and what remained was an empty manuscript, void of all her imagination had captured.

Then came a twist in the story of a kind that would serve in one of the detective stories that have entertained mystery buffs for generations: Mrs. Vickers, 59, and her son turned to the forensic service of the Dorset County police….