“My use of paper and bleach in the work originates from my time working as a hairdresser at my mother's salon in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, where I would take end papers and soak them in bleach to dye clients' hair. I liked the end papers. I liked the social fabric they represented. Here, I am interested in the pattern of flux created by this bleaching effect." -Mark Bradford
“Mark and I were always on the same page with this project—we share the same fear, the same anger, and the same hopes for a better future.” -Robert Glasper
In an innovative partnership, the world-renowned piano maker Steinway & Sons has commissioned artist Mark Bradford and composer Robert Glasper to create a unique work of art—a grand piano, Apollo, and musical composition, Still Shining. The first of three Steinway Commissions to take place over three years, the proceeds from the sale of Apollo/Still Shining will benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Studio Museum of Harlem in New York, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The director of the Walker, Olga Viso, said of The Steinway Commission, “It’s a great coming together of institutions with a like-minded spirit of supporting artists” (O. Viso, speaking to Christie’s, March 2016).
For the past twenty years, Mark Bradford has layered materials found within the daily landscape of the city into formally beautiful abstractions that touch upon important moments within the social and political history of race in America. Bradford returned to his roots for Apollo/Still Shining, choosing to work with materials from his personal and artistic past: bleach and the translucent squares of paper used to wrap hair when one is getting a permanent curl treatment. He said of these materials, “My use of paper and bleach in the work originates from my time working as a hairdresser at my mother's salon in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, where I would take end papers and soak them in bleach to dye clients' hair. I liked the end papers. I liked the social fabric they represented. Here, I am interested in the pattern of flux created by this bleaching effect" (M. Bradford, speaking to Christie’s, March 2016).
These materials have been a part of Bradford’s working method since the beginning of his career, but for Apollo/Still Shining he has transformed them once again via a technique that occupies a place in between painting, staining and collage. After burning the edges, Bradford layered the translucent, singed end-papers onto the surface of the piano in a way that makes it appear charred. Combined with the bleach which has turned portions of its surface golden, the overall effect is that the piano appears to be aflame. Words by Maxwell Heller used to describe an earlier work can also be applied to Apollo/Still Shining: “It calls to mind the charred and shattered windshields of cars burned in riots—black, webbed with streaks of light, sleek. If studied section by section, it offers traces of the artist’s sensual, tactile process, revealing delicate layers of found material sliced and sanded, lacquered and pasted until transformed” (M. Heller, “The Mark Bradford Show,” The Brooklyn Rail, 3 February 2011).
Bradford has a deep engagement with all three institutions being supported by this project. He was introduced to New York’s art world in the Studio Museum’s 2001 exhibition, Freestyle. His work has since been collected by the Walker and the artist now sits on the board of The Museum of Contemporary Art in his hometown, Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited across the world in museums and institutions, including the Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag; The Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai; The Rose Art Museum, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Bradford’s work has also been included in the 2006 Sao Paolo Biennial, the 2006 Whitney Biennial, the 2006 Liverpool Biennial, Prospect 1: New Orleans in 2008, the 2012 Gwangju Biennial and the 2015 Sharjah Biennial.
Grammy award-winning pianist Robert Glasper is known for synthesizing the genres of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, and with The Steinway Commission has now combined the disciplines of music and art. His talent for fusion was earned early in life, as the composer and musician played gospel in the family’s church and accompanied his mother as she sang in Houston’s jazz and the blues clubs. Glasper was a natural partner for Bradford, because as he has said, “Mark and I were always on the same page with this project—we share the same fear, the same anger, and the same hopes for a better future” (R. Glasper, speaking to Christie’s, March 2016). In addition to fronting the Robert Glasper Experiment, whose Black Radio won the Grammy for Best R&B Album of 2012, Glasper has also produced award-winning albums by Jay-Z, Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Meshell Ndegeocello, and many more of R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap’s biggest stars. Glasper was immediately drawn to Bradford’s concept for Apollo. He said of The Steinway Commission, “I’ve been exploring the subject matter of race and unrest in my own work, so this was an unbelievable opportunity to express these themes in a three-dimensional way” (Ibid.).
Glasper’s composition, Still Shining is the perfect audio counterpart to Bradford’s treatment of the piano. This creative collaboration is reminiscent of historic partnerships in art and music. In its capacity to transcend a known artistic aesthetic through the added context of a musical and performative layer, Apollo/Still Shining calls upon the conceptions and output that John Cage and Merce Cunningham achieved in tandem. Cage and Cunningham, in their expression as artists, and both as teachers at the influential avant-garde Black Mountain college, paved the way for contemporary stars like Bradford and Glasper, who have similarly envisioned and created a total work of art in a powerful, cooperative approach.
Composed of four movements, Still Shining begins with a light, calm section entitled Tranquility before breaking down and dissolving into a dissonance that describes the second movement Unrest-Violence-Rescue. The sounds of joy, optimism and prosperity return in the third movement, Rebirth. Glasper’s intention for the composition was to echo the narrative arc of life, during which dark periods of doubt and confusion must be traversed to allow for a new beginning. When played on a Steinway Spirio, a high-resolution grand player piano, it is impossible to distinguish the sound of the recording from a live performance. The Spirio gives a bodily experience to the music, combining the lyricism and drama of the music with the intensity of reverberance as if Glasper was playing it. The Steinway Spirio is the perfect marriage of Steinway’s legendary craftsmanship with contemporary technology.