Seated on scaffolding high above the floor of the Hammer Museum, Mark Bradford runs his hand along the grooved outline of a two-story map of the United States. Patches of brilliant pinks, various hues of blue and earthy olives peek out from where the white wall has been scraped to reveal the many layers underneath — evidence of the past 29 murals that have, at one point or another, occupied the museum’s lobby gallery.
Within each state a number has also been scraped: California, 12.5; Florida, 28.1; Wyoming, 2.4. These represent the number of adolescents and adults out of every 100,000 people who were diagnosed with AIDS at the end of 2009.
As he runs his hand along the border between Washington and Oregon (7.3 and 6.7, respectively), Bradford says he decided not to use the most recent diagnosis rates because he wanted to “leave some speculation about where we are now.” He adds: “HIV is not over.”
The piece is a reminder of a pressing social condition. But it’s also a wry nod to the museum’s own history. “Finding Barry,” as the piece is called, takes its name from San Francisco-based muralist and painter Barry McGee, who created one of the Hammer’s early lobby installations in 2000 — a crimson skyscape of stylized clouds and sad-sack male figures. “He was one of the first to do a drawing on this wall,” says Bradford personably. “So I’m just scraping until I find Barry.”
On June 20, the Hammer Museum will open the doors on “Scorched Earth,” the artist’s first solo museum show in Los Angeles, where he’ll be displaying a series of 12 new paintings (including the lobby mural). The show also includes a six-minute sound installation titled “Spiderman,” in which Bradford delivers an off-color comedy routine that lampoons the often crass and macho language of stand-up. (The piece was inspired by the artist’s own encounter with a homophobic Eddie Murphy routine.)
For the artist, this is an exhibition that has been long in coming.
Bradford is a born and bred Angeleno, raised in West Adams and Santa Monica and educated at the California Institute of the Arts, where he received both his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees in fine arts. He has made a name for himself internationally with works that employ the raw materials that L.A. has given him, such as the plentiful street signage advertising quick cash and DNA testing that he harvests from utility poles and reconfigures into textured, abstract works that ride the divide between collage and painting — works that channel urban landscapes that have been constructed and obliterated, only to be constructed and obliterated again.
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