Who: Mark Bradford
What: “Be Strong Boquan”
Where: Hauser & Wirth, 511 West 18th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., 212-790-3900
When: Through Wednesday, December 23, free, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Why: Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford has had quite a 2015, highlighted by a major exhibition, “Scorched Earth,” at the Hammer Museum; setting a personal record when his painting “Smear” sold for $4.4 million at Sotheby’s in May; being named Artist of the Year by The Week magazine; completing a commission for a lobby work at Rockefeller Center; and having his first New York City solo show at his new gallery, Hauser & Wirth. The H&W exhibit, “Be Strong Boquan,” which continues through December 23, is breathtaking, consisting of nine large-scale mixed-media collages, two short films, a text-based work, and “Waterfall,” which encompasses dozens and dozens of strips of scraps from his studio, all draped over a metal bar. Bradford’s “paintings” are actually palimpsestual collages made out of billboard flyers, colored paper, posters, newsprint, and photographs layered with clear shellac on a stretched canvas; he also adds twine and other objects that he pulls to form rivulets that tear through the pieces. From a distance they look like abstract paintings, but up close you can see the depth and density of the materials, adding a mesmerizing sculptural physicality to the works, which reference urban violence, race riots, the AIDS crisis, gender identity, and other social concerns. Bradford gives the works such titles as “Hunger with Salt and Pepper Tastes Better,” “Killing the Goodbye,” and “Dead Hummingbird,” names that stand in stark contrast to the visceral beauty of the canvases. In the long, horizontal video installation “Deimos,” Bradford brings roller-skate wheels to animated stop-motion life, dancing to the soul funk of Sylvester’s “Grateful,” paying tribute to the “Queen of Disco” who died from AIDS in 1988 at the age of forty-one. (The wheels were left over from the old Roxy nightclub, which previously inhabited the H&W space on Eighteenth St.) Bradford’s “Spiderman” reimagines Eddie Murphy’s controversial 1983 “Delirious” stand-up special; a red spotlight shines on a vacant space as a black comedian can be heard on the film, which shows only the words being said, not the speaker, who discusses Michael Jackson, Eazy-E, and AIDS as an unseen audience laughs at his jokes. “Be Strong Boquan” is a breakthrough exhibit for Bradford, who at the age of fifty-four is experiencing a well-deserved surge in his career.