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“MAYBE IT’S ABOUT… TRACING THE GHOSTS OF CITIES PAST. IT’S THE PULLING OFF OF A LAYER AND FINDING ANOTHER UNDERNEATH. IT’S THE… DETAILS THAT POINT TO PEOPLE SAYING, ‘WE EXIST; WE WERE HERE’.” - MARK BRADFORD

By 2011 the curatorial identity of the Rubin Center as a site where artists address its immediate environment, including the border, the city and the desert, was established. I was by then not only ready to build out from this but was also familiar with and increasingly intrigued by some of the subjects of Bradford’s art: the history and energy of the city, mercantilism, and creating a voice for people who are under-recognized or disregarded. I contacted Bradford early that year and extended an open invitation to him to exhibit at the Rubin Center. A few months later he proposed a painting that would incorporate printouts of messages from chain cell phone texts that warn about activity at border checkpoints in southern California. For example “be careful there is a police checkpoint on Alameda and Florence … pass it on.” By fall 2011 that concept had changed. The artist wrote, “The more I thought about the project for UTEP, I wanted to open up the conversation to more than Los Angeles.” What resulted was With That Ass, They Won’t Look At Your Eyes, created especially for exhibition on the Rubin Center’s longest wall. It is Bradford’s largest painting to date

and its subject is the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution that were ratified by Congress in 1791. Of these, the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition) is perhaps the most famous, quoted and contested, and is fundamental to the ideals of this country. The painting’s title subversively addresses how the media has abused this First Amendment freedom. Bradford states,

“with exposé after exposé on the ‘immigration problem’, the images are usually negative - overcrowded schools, states that are bankrupt, drug violence, etc. These images are so constant and persistent in the shaping of the U.S. collective that a real conversation about immigration cannot happen. The light is too blinding and makes everyone blind to the real intimate day-to-day struggles of millions of people.”4 In other words, mass media reporting is biased in its selectivity. As feminist and educational advocate bell hooks, who chooses not to capitalize her name, maintains, “No one, no matter how intelligent and skillful at

critical thinking, is protected against the subliminal suggestions that imprint themselves on our unconscious brain if we are watching hours and hours of television.”5 The media is simultaneously misleading and powerful. Bradford was inspired to create text-based paintings such as With That Ass, They Won’t Look At Your Eyes by the merchant posters that populated the cyclone fences surrounding lots where buildings were burned during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Each of the posters consists of a solid and brightly colored background covered edge to edge with blocky, black text that advertises a good or service, such as “Life Time Hair! 100% Virgin Indian Hair. Invest in Yourself and Save” or “The Promise Land Sober Living For Men and Women. Free Cable and Utilities.” Since at least 2000 Bradford has used the hundreds of posters he has collected as the basis for collages, both physically and conceptually. Corner of Desire and Piety (2008), for example, consists of 48 posters, twelve across and six down, each emblazoned with the phrase, “Propane Delivered to FEMA trailers 504-733-8764.” The message emerges as if unearthed because Bradford outlined the

mark bradford exhibition  

mark bradford exhibition catalog