Mark Bradford puts Menorca on the map
Entitled “Masses and Movements”, Mark Bradford’s exhibition inaugurates Hauser & Wirth’s latest addition to its global gallery empire, in the outbuildings of a former 18th century hospital on Illa del Rei, an islet in Maó’s harbor. , the small capital of the island of Menorca. Yet the somewhat unlikely remote location of the new outpost belies the dynamics of power, conquest and influence that have flowed for centuries around Menorca’s strategically advantageous pin on the naval map of the Mediterranean. Comprised of 16 intricately textured canvas works, an installation of globes and a two-part mural, Bradford deals both literally and metaphorically with expansion into uncharted waters.
The central motif of the exhibition is the Waldseemüller world map from 1507, the first to depict a landmass on the edge of the Atlantic and to name it America. Lines of latitude and longitude drawn with caulk run through the scarified canvases – made using Bradford’s signature technique of hollowing out and sanding layers of encrusted glue paper – sometimes reminiscent of the borders of African nations, the beds rivers, roads or wind rose lines, the canvas – like the networks of the first navigation charts. Bones and their makers (all 2021 works) is a brooding nocturnal of leaden grays, caustic blacks, and twisted fragments of continents formed by two panels originally designed as individual horizontal works. Wedged to form a diptych, its central seal reads like a tectonic plate boundary or a fold in a bizarre layered atlas of ash and scrimshaw – whale teeth decoratively engraved by sailors in the 1800s.
With a discreet trail of clues posed by their titles, Bradford’s paintings span from European discovery of the New World, settler colonialism and the commerce of peoples enslaved to the American Civil War and racialized urban zoning. Four works are named after chapters in a biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a man born into slavery in 1762 in present-day Haiti who became a swaggering general in the French army. With comic book fragments appearing among their takeoff masses, The background of the revolution and Sugar factory seem to be working on the same detail of the Waldseemüller map – or one emulates the other, as if it were a pirate copy. In contrast, The cost of disaster seems to zoom in far, giving the impression of a planet docked in ink space. Its cacophony of colors is reminiscent of infrared satellite images used to monitor habitat loss and climate change, while its title refers to WEB Du Bois analysis, in Black reconstruction in America (1935), of America’s failure to take into account the legacy of slavery.
Hanging in a row from the ceiling, Spatial equity includes seven black and gold paper globes of increasing size, as if Bradford were repeatedly forced to create an “ever larger picture” of world affairs. Yet an untitled fresco in an adjacent gallery is a cosmic replica to purely earthly paradigms. Painted and scratched on the walls, it juxtaposes the attenuated form of America on the 1507 map with a phrase that sums up the then imminent revolution in astronomy: “AT THE CENTER REPOSE THE SUN”, a reference to awareness of Nicolaus Copernicus that the sun, and not the Earth, was the center of the universe.
“The paintings are just details,” the artist remarked at the exhibition’s preview, while relating the curfews after the 1992 Los Angeles uprising to the eerie feeling of being in. the outdoors during COVID-19 closures, and how it might have been to navigate unknown seas in the 16th century. In his 2010 essay “Amsterdam Is Standing on Norway,” environmental historian Jason W. Moore uses a nautical metaphor to discuss the maneuvers required to unravel the epic transformations of the modern first world – and how he shaped ours – without becoming mired in particularisms: the dialectical shift. Likewise, Bradford’s “Masses and Moves” manages to navigate the winds of vast and enduring issues while literally only scratching the surface.
by Mark Bradford “Masses and movements” is visible at Hauser & Wirth Menorca until October 31, 2021.
Main picture: Untitled (detail), Mixed installation 2021, variable dimensions. Courtesy: the artist and Hauser & Wirth; photo: Stefan Altenburger