Hot contemporary artist Mark Bradford to represent US at Venice Biennale

Three US institutions recruited the artist for what one museum director calls the greatest honour in the contemporary art world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 2:57pm

Mark Bradford is arguably the hottest contemporary artist in the US right now and the Rose Art Museum has just announced he will represent the country at the 2017 Venice Biennale, the expansive and prestigious exhibition staged in Italy every two years.

That Bradford was selected is not shocking. He was recruited by three art museums, he says, to represent the country and has been featured in major exhibitions across the US.

He’s now working on a series of paintings set to go on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington next year, a work that will be the largest he’s created yet.

More surprising is the fact that he chose the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, a contemporary museum with a stunning collection but which, only six years ago, was deemed expendable by the university’s then president.

“Being awarded the pavilion is the greatest honour in the contemporary art world,” says Christopher Bedford, the Rose’s director. “If that doesn’t spell the end of the Rose crisis period and suggest a sparking new beginning, I’m not sure what would.”

Bradford, 53, says that he didn’t know all that much about the Rose controversy, which ended when the university agreed not to consider selling any of its collection, which is valued at more than US$350 million and includes works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Willem de Kooning.

He did know Bedford well. They met a decade ago when Bedford, now 39, was an assistant curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After Bedford took over the Rose in 2012, the first work he purchased was Bradford’s sprawling, mixed-media canvas, Father, You Have Murdered Me.

“I trust him,” says Bradford. “When you’re working on major things, it’s good to work with someone who you’ve had a major working relationship with. You’re already comfortable with each other before you start.”

The Rose has also added Bradford to his board and the artist, whose focus on social service has led to his efforts to create programmes for foster children in his native Los Angeles. Bradford says he’s been inspired by the focus on social justice at Brandeis.

In 2014, he gave a talk at the university that included Bedford and Anita Hill, the Brandeis professor most famous for accusing then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

“I talked to the students after that talk and they were so on fire,” says Bradford. “They just blew me away. They’re so passionate and believe they can change things. So for me, it just felt right. It’s the Rose plus Brandeis and Christopher.”

What’s not clear is what exactly Bradford will create for the biennale. It will go on view in May 2017 and be co-curated by Bedford and Katy Siegel, the Rose’s curator at large and the head of modern American art at Stony Brook University.

Geoff Edgers