Mark Bradford: Painting A New View Of History

Installation view of Mark Bradford, "Pickett’s Charge," at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photograph by Cathy Carver.


by Nancy Nesvet

Mark Bradford makes a deliberate effort to personalize and reimagine history, leaving them in the same place artistically: redefining American history; contemporizing, personalizing and illustrating Americans’ history.

His 10-year survey of past work at the ICA Boston (March 2010 to March 2011); his 2014 “Sea Monsters” show at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum that was highlighted by his site-specific mural entitled “King’s Mirror”; and his successful nomination by former Rose Museum director Christopher Bedford to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale 2017 are causing waves in the art world as they reveal, tear up, paint over and deconstruct history.

Bradford’s “Pickett’s Charge” site-specific commission of eight billboard-sized paintings commands the third-floor circular rotunda of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. It is the depiction of a highly organized Civil War battle that disintegrates when reality intrudes and an Afro-American artist strangles the canvas with ropes and tears, symbolic of his forebears’ treatment, showing how the country was divided and strangled by this war.

These large-scale reproductions were made of some of the images in the painted panels of Paul Philippoteaux’s 1883 Cyclorama at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, showing the Battle of Gettysburg’s last charge. Bradford tore, sanded, layered paint, affixed colored paper and stretched ropes across the painting. He asks, “Who are they? Who are we? Do we all get counted in our history? How do we make our inclusion apparent? As tears in the paper stand in for tears in American society, then and now, the work reveals the differing views, ideals and interests of American society.

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