An exterior view of the Hirshhorn Museum shows the cylindrical form of the building. | Courtesy Smithsonian Institution
MORE THAN A YEAR AGO, in October 2015, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden announced Mark Bradford would be presenting his first-ever exhibition in Washington, D.C. The site-specific commission will utilize the entire expanse of the inner ring of the Smithsonian museum’s cylindrical, third-floor gallery and debut in November. Spanning nearly 400 linear feet, the monumental work is the largest Bradford has ever created.
The museum announced details about the project over the summer, reporting the artist is utilizing Smithsonian resources, delving into the archives to research overlooked voices of women who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Now Bradford’s vision for the project has changed.
Further stoking anticipation and curiosity, the Hirshhorn is releasing updated information about artist’s work. The new announcement is expected this week; The museum shared a few details in advance with Culture Type.
Known for confronting history and addressing political and social issues in his abstract collage paintings, Bradford plans to incorporate figuration in his work for the first time and is “taking as a point of departure” a major Civil War painting.
The 380-foot painting of the final charge of the Battle of Gettsyburg is on view in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The 1883 cyclorama by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux portrays the critical turning point in the Civil War. A clash between North and South and the national divide over race, slavery, and the economy, the war altered American history and, while much more grave, in many ways echoes the current climate and contention in the United States.
The historic painting is called a “cyclorama,” which is defined as a panoramic image designed to give viewers standing in the middle of a cylindrical space a 360-degree view. (The Hirshhorn is also using the term for Bradford’s commission.) Both the format of the painting and the pivotal period it captures are serving as inspiration for Bradford.
The artist’s work is in progress. It is unclear how his new exploration of figuration will be realized in his cyclorama. The museum described what to expect, symbolically: “Combining figurative imagery for the first time with his hallmark collage technique, Bradford creates a compelling juxtaposition that offers viewers the opportunity to consider critical moments when our nation was divided and will be particularly timely given the artwork’s placement on the National Mall.”
“Bradford creates a compelling juxtaposition that offers viewers the opportunity to consider critical moments when our nation was divided and will be particularly timely given the artwork’s placement on the National Mall.” — Hirshhorn Museum
BASED IN LOS ANGELES, Bradford is in high demand this year. He is representing the United States at the Venice Biennale (May 13–Nov. 26). At a press event last week in New York, Bradford announced a local initiative as a part of his participation. It’s a six-year project organized to help male and female prisoners in Italy market products they create, everything from vegetables to cosmetics and tote bags, according to the Baltimore Sun. The plan is to sell their wares in a Venice storefront and eventually market them worldwide.
“I was not comfortable just doing the U.S. Pavilion. …I knew there had to be something about Venice other than gondolas and all the pretty—things that are urgent and difficult. Venice likes to cover all the other stuff up. I want to draw attention to it,” Bradford said.
At the Hirshhorn, Bradford will again venture beyond the art itself, staying true to his commitment to social and civic engagement. The museum plans a robust schedule of public programming throughout the yearlong run of the exhibition, including initiatives with Howard University students and the broader Washington community.
In a statement last July, Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn, noted the importance of the artist’s practice and excitement brewing at the museum. “Mark Bradford has emerged as one of the defining voices of his generation, and through his deep engagement with the political and social issues of our time he invites us to question and rethink history,” she said. “We at the Hirshhorn are eagerly anticipating an installation that will provoke our collective consciousness through a layered and expressive visual language that has come to define Mark’s singular and celebrated style of painting.” CT
TOP IMAGE: Mark Bradford. | Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
“Mark Bradford: Tears of a Tree” explores three monumental collage paintings titled “The Tears of a Tree,” “Falling Horses” and “Lazy Mountain,” inspired by the Bradford’s visits to Shanghai. “Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Hammer Museum. Rife with illustrations, the volume discusses “Spiderman,” Bradford’s multimedia standup comedy installation and includes the original script for the stand up routine. “Mark Bradford: My Head Became a Rock” is an 18-page limited-edition overscaled artist’s book that documents Bradford’s inaugural exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, Zurich.
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