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Value 87

Value 87
signed with the artist's initials, titled and inscribed 'Value 87 2010 m' (on the reverse)
mixed media collage on canvas
48 x 60 3⁄8in. (121.9 x 153.4cm.)
Executed in 2009
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009.
Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Mark Bradford, 2010-2012, pp. 208 and 228, no. 44 (illustrated in colour, p. 209; dated '2009-2010'). This exhibition later travelled to Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art and San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection since the year it was made, Value 87 (2009) is a searing example of Mark Bradford’s socially-engaged abstraction. Found billboard paper and other media are layered into a painterly relief of vivid colour and scoured mark-making, carved into ridges and channels using a grinding tool. Streaks of sky-blue, coral and black are offset by flashes of yellow. A corrugated rush of line sweeps through like a brushstroke. A huge, torn field of black and white dominates the picture’s lower half. The effect is reminiscent of a satellite image or map, evoking a landscape or weather system seen from the air. An intense, tectonic energy is embedded in the work, whose layers are ripped, formed and excavated from the surfaces of urban life itself. It was created at a pivotal moment for Bradford. In 2009, he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, and undertook an artist’s residency at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, which concluded in 2010. Value 87 was subsequently included in his landmark five-city touring exhibition that opened at the Wexner in May that year. It has been unseen in public since the exhibition’s conclusion in 2012.

Before entering CalArts in 1991 at the age of thirty, Bradford was, as he has put it, ‘working at a hair salon, travelling to places like Europe, Africa and Mexico, and going to clubs and dancing’ (M Bradford, quoted in C. Picard, ‘Interview with Mark Bradford: “It’s a complex conversation and there’s no closure”’, The Art Newspaper, 1 May 2010). His employment at his mother’s beauty shop in South Central Los Angeles overlapped with his artistic career. He often integrated bobby pins, hair dye and perming endpapers into his early collage-paintings, which toyed with the languages of Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. Graduating from CalArts with an MFA in 1997, Bradford began a swift rise to acclaim. He was included in Thelma Golden’s 2001 group exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a seminal moment in what has been called ‘Post-Black Art’; in 2002, he received a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award; still other accolades followed, crowned by the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009 and his touring retrospective. His art, by this time, had taken on a greater material weight and monumental presence, incorporating the compounded, sanded, caulked and debossed layers of printed matter seen in the present work.

While the scale and splendour of Bradford’s works has often seen him compared to the Abstract Expressionists, he is not in search of the sublime, otherworldly power that motivated many of those painters. His art remains firmly rooted in the social, commercial and material economies of the Leimert Park neighbourhood where he grew up, and where he continues to work today. Coloured by his experience of the area’s poverty and violence, as well as the desperate years of the AIDS crisis and crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, he is acutely sensitive to the texture of life on the margins. His works, with their raw, stressed, eroded and ruptured surfaces, are a form of abstracted reportage. ‘As a twenty-first-century African American artist,’ he says, ‘when I look back at Abstract Expressionism, I get the politics, I get the problems, I get the theories … I think there are other ways of looking through abstraction. To use the whole social fabric of our society as a point of departure for abstraction reanimates it, dusts it off. It becomes really interesting to me, and supercharged’ (M. Bradford, ‘Clyfford Still’s Paintings’, in The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look at Art, New York 2017, p. 46).

The word Value in the present work’s title gestures to Bradford’s synthesis of aesthetic and societal concerns. A painter might discuss a tonal value, referring to the lightness or darkness of a colour. Bradford’s work also invokes other forms of value, such as that which is assigned to certain socioeconomic communities or individuals. The billboard advertisements and other printed matter he uses relate to the fringe economies of his locale, conjuring a network of market values far removed from those usually considered in the realm of fine art. These materials are also, he explains, ‘things that have some use value’ (M. Bradford, quoted in ibid.). Rich in beauty and freighted with cultural and personal significance, Bradford’s work is an eloquent exploration of these ideas. Retooling the visual forces that structure and stratify contemporary urban life, Value 87 occupies transcendent territory among the most heroic canvases of American art. Far from making an escape from the world, abstraction, in Bradford’s hands, brings us within touching distance of reality.

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