Dense with visual information, Randomly Monitored oscillates between highly layered opacity and passages of transparent clarity, playing host to a range of found materials and visual allusions. Bradford’s signature collage/décollage process is on full display as the artist incises and then covers a complicated network built around a highly angular framework. These gridlines glow aggressively against the white ground, alighting in passages of neon orange and a faded sky blue that allude to obfuscated imagery and material lurking below the surface. A nod to inroads made in abstraction throughout the twentieth century, the present work takes preestablished visual language and deforms it, finding flexibility where there was once rigidity and conforming aloof formalism to the curved and irregular nuance of lived experience. In this sense, Bradford’s canvas is a proxy for a city wall, covered in layers of wheat-paste advertisements that have been partially scraped away, as well as more abstract concepts, such as memory. Describing his practice, Bradford explains: “I’m like a modern-day flâneur. I like to walk through the city and find details and then abstract them and make them my own. I’m not speaking for a community or trying to make a sociopolitical point. At the end, it’s my mapping, my subjectivity” (The artist in “Market>Place,” Art21, PBS, November 2011).
Bradford’s canvas uses this map structure to craft interpretations of what it means to be visible or hidden. The title of the present work, Randomly Monitored, alludes to acts of surveillance, especially of communication and movement. The aforementioned passages of color, along with passages of text printed on found billboard material, become most salient on the margins of the composition. Taken as topographical guide, Randomly Monitored speaks to geographic concepts of the center and its periphery and who or what is most visible in each zone. Speaking of Bradford’s work, Katy Siegel offers, “there are two possibilities: to be seen or to disappear. The first, to be visible, means to be recognized. To be recognizable, you must align yourself with known categories…If you take a form or identity that is not socially recognized—either because it is unfamiliar or not valued—you risk invisibility. To be unseen, not to matter…Mark Bradford’s art is a complicated disquisition on all of these possibilities. As Bradford once described it to fellow artist Kara Walker, the condition he inhabits is one of ‘having to fight erasure and rigid identity constructs at the same time’” (Katy Siegel, “Somebody or Nobody,” in Exh. Cat., Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Mark Bradford, 2010, p. 103).
Thought of as one of the most influential artists working today, Bradford’s practice brings together aesthetic beauty and urgent social concerns. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at such renowned international institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the SFMOMA, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston, amongst others. Testifying to the artist’s significance upon an international stage, Bradford was most recently featured in the US Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where his impactful exhibition Tomorrow is Another Day was met with widespread critical and public acclaim. Bespeaking the artist’s essential contributions to abstraction, the present work is resplendent with multilayered visual and political gestures, using systems of camouflage and display to underscore notions of identity, perception, and community.
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