With That Ass, They Won’t Look at Your Eyes
LEFT: Mark Bradford, Pinocchio is on Fire (detail), multimedia installation, dimensions variable, 2010. Installation view: Mark Bradford, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2010. Photo by John Kenrard.
I first became aware of Mark Bradford in 2002 when I visited the University of California Fisher Gallery to see the group exhibition Mixed Feelings: Art and Culture in the Postborder Metropolis. I was relatively new to the border: I had been hired to be the director of university galleries at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) about 18 months prior. In my quest to educate myself about border issues and artists who were addressing them, and to settle upon strategies for how the galleries at UTEP might contribute to that body of research, I visited Mixed Feelings. Bradford’s contribution to this show was Jericho, a sculpture that consisted of a hairdresser’s chair elevated so that its seat was about seven feet above the floor, a large mirror and three back-lit plastic signs of the type that are ubiquitous to retail establishments in urban neighborhoods. One of them spelled out in black and red letters, “Tired of color! Try the LR Look. Ani-pedi $15.” What is the LR Look? Is Ani-pedi supposed to be Mani-pedi? These unknowns add to the both the ridiculousness and the mystery of the positive change that the sign promotes. Jericho is known in Judeo-Christian tradition as the place of the Israelites’ return from
bondage in Egypt. In Jericho Bradford likens the mundane salon to a nearly sacred space of pilgrimage, social gathering and interaction. The makeover promised by the misspelled signage is a secular transformation no less than the spiritual ones promised in the Bible. Jericho also recognizes small business owners as instrumental to the cultural and economic dynamic of the city. Demographic diversity and its inherent cultural richness and racial tension are part of the urban fabric. Cultural theoretician Mike Davis claims that in the case of Latino immigrants, even if they are in theory applauded for their initiatives that contribute to the economy of cities, they are in practice persecuted.1 Other research uses Los Angeles as a case study and concludes that Asian immigrant merchants harbor prejudice toward the more established merchants in the African-American neighborhoods where they have located.2 Bradford is African-American and Jericho celebrates the entrepreneurial culture that he is closest to. His subsequent works are broader in impetus and meaning. The two works exhibited here are examples of this. With That Ass, They Won’t Look At Your Eyes (2012), tackles the subject of the Bill of Rights, and Niagara (2005) portrays