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United States pavilion opens with Mark Bradford's "Tomorrow Is Another Day"
Installation view Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day La Biennale di Venezia, US Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2017. Photo: Joshua White. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

VENICE.- Tomorrow Is Another Day, featuring new work by Mark Bradford, is presented by the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, at La Biennale di Venezia 57th International Art Exhibition. Co-curated by Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director and Commissioner for the project, and Katy Siegel, BMA Senior Programming and Research Curator, Tomorrow Is Another Day is Bradford’s reflection on his personal and artistic journey, as well as the history of crisis in modern America—both of which culminate in his historic commission for the U.S. Pavilion.

Tomorrow Is Another Day reflects Bradford’s belief in art’s alchemical power to transform, his continuing experiments with material abstraction, and his commitment to marginalized populations. For the five galleries of the U.S. Pavilion, as well as its exterior, Bradford has developed a multilayered narrative that intertwines personal experience and social history, seeing today’s world as if it were the ancient past and raising individual stories to the level of myth, a perspective that reveals the gravity of the present moment. Tomorrow Is Another Day features paintings and sculpture that bring back materials used earlier in the artist’s career, as well as some new discoveries, and includes an existing video work that gains new relevance in the current political climate.

“We are thrilled to present Tomorrow Is Another Day on this international stage,” said Bedford, BMA director and former director of the Rose Art Museum. “The exhibition and Process Collettivo social cooperative project embody the distinct combination of formal and social interests that define Mark Bradford, and which make him a truly timely representative for the United States in 2017. As much as these projects represent Bradford and the conditions that influence him, they also exemplify his pluralistic and inclusive vision of the world—a vision that redefines what it means to be both an artist and a citizen.”

In conjunction with the U.S. Pavilion exhibition, Bradford has embarked on a six-year collaboration with Venice nonprofit social cooperative Rio Terà dei Pensieri, which provides employment opportunities to men and women incarcerated in Venice who create artisanal goods and other products and supports their re-integration into society. Titled Process Collettivo, the Rio Terà dei Pensieri/Bradford collaboration aims to launch a sustainable longterm program that brings awareness to both the penal system and the success of the social cooperative model. A storefront, located in the heart of Venice, will be the initial manifestation of the collaboration, and is open to the public in conjunction with the La Biennale di Venezia.

“Tomorrow Is Another Day is the culmination of my personal and artistic process leading up to this incredible moment of representing the United States, but it also addresses the difficulties experienced by so many others who are trying to create foundations for themselves and find their footing,” said Bradford. “The exhibition is not just about me, but about all of those who feel like they’re on the periphery. My collaboration with Rio Terà dei Pensieri is an essential part of my process, creating sustainable platforms for people who don’t have these opportunities.”

A pioneering figure in contemporary art, Bradford is known for abstract paintings and collage-based works that recapture mid-century American art’s capacity to conjure the sublime and evoke deep feeling, while incorporating layers of social and personal commentary. In parallel with his studio work, Bradford is deeply engaged with social issues, as co-founder of Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization Art + Practice, which stimulates education and culture by supporting the needs of foster youth predominantly living in South Los Angeles, and providing access to free, museum-curated art exhibitions and moderated art lectures to the community of Leimert Park. The artist’s equivalent commitments to formal intervention and social activism anchor his contribution to culture at large, and embody his belief that contemporary artists can reinvent the world we share.

“Mark has a virtuosic ability to make art that speaks to, and for everyone,” said Siegel. “Tomorrow Is Another Day is the ultimate manifestation of his generous and democratic vision of art and the world. Not only has he created some of his most spectacular and ambitious work to date, but he also reveals the greatest extremes of his vision—the darkest and most joyful we have ever seen from him.”

This year marks the second time that the BMA has served as a commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion. In 1960, the BMA was invited to organize the Pavilion by Porter A. McCray, chairman of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition was co-curated by BMA Director Adelyn Breeskin and Chief Curator Dr. Gertrude Rosenthal, featuring four New York School Abstract Expressionist artists: Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, and the sculptor Theodore Roszak. This will be the first time that the Rose Art Museum, whose mission affirms and advances the values of freedom of expression, academic excellence, global diversity and social justice that are the hallmarks of Brandeis University, will be serving as a commissioner.

A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Gregory R. Miller & Co., is available in conjunction with the exhibition Tomorrow Is Another Day. Edited by Katy Siegel and Christopher Bedford, the publication features essays by Anita Hill, Peter Hudson, Sarah Lewis, Katy Siegel, and Zadie Smith, and Christopher Bedford’s extensive interview with Mark Bradford.

This project has been generously supported by The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State; Henry Luce Foundation; Hauser & Wirth; The Broad Art Fund; Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida; Lizbeth and George Krupp; Cindy and Howard Rachofsky; Maryland State Arts Council, Part of Maryland Department of Commerce; VIA Art Fund; Mafia Papers Studio; Jennifer and John Eagle; Maurice and Paul Marciano Foundation; Lambent Foundation; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Tomorrow Is Another Day takes visitors through a progression of installations that incorporate themes and figures from Bradford’s personal life, Greek mythology, and the universe—introduced before the visitor even enters the U.S. Pavilion. Two large slabs of cement board titled Hephaestus are positioned on the Pavilion’s façade, engraved with a poem by Bradford that foreshadows the galleries inside. Bradford redirects visitors from the main entrance framed by classical columns to an entry on the side of the building—in effect, sending them through the servants’ door. Inside the Pavilion, a swollen mass with a black and red pockmarked surface bears down on visitors from above, pushing them to the periphery of the room and forcing deft navigation of the space. The obstructive sculpture forces viewers to the margins, placing us in the role of powerless and vulnerable surrounding a collapsing centralized social power structure. The work’s title, Spoiled Foot, draws from the story of Hephaestus, god of the forge, who was cast from Mount Olympus for being born lame. Also the god of artists and of makers, he is a figure for Bradford.

In his new series, featured in the second room of the Pavilion, Bradford returns to the themes explored in his best-known and first mature work from the early 2000s with an established command of the material and the confidence to push painting as far as it can go. Having worked alongside his mother for decades in her beauty salon, Bradford’s use of endpapers carries broader themes of labor, socioeconomics, and politics. Returning to this material for the first time in a dozen years, Bradford incorporates the endpapers in shimmering black-purple paintings; as Siegel points out, “their liquid, fathomless depths embody the formal innovation of his working method—soaking paper in large basins—and also evoke the sea and its passages.” For Bradford, the Sirens represent the allure, the abuse, and the rage of women, in private life and in popular culture. They surround a new sculptural work, Medusa, a tangle of bleached black paper locks. Bradford draws on accounts of Medusa as wronged by Poseidon—not horrifying, but beautiful and powerful.

Oracle is a site-specific installation in the rotunda of the Pavilion. Here Bradford has created a work that is not only original and specific to the Biennale, but entirely new in his oeuvre, and within the recent history of art. Using skeins of bleached and black paper, the artist transforms the rotunda, molding the interior space. He transports us back in time to the ancient grotto, a site between cave and altar, between nature and culture, where oracles would deliver profound truth and predictions.

In the fourth room, a suite of monumental canvases explore the relation between intimate biology and the grand cosmic perspective. Created with commercial paper which the artist bleached, soaked and molded by hand, these paintings suggest both the building blocks of life and heavenly bodies. The exhibition’s namesake, Tomorrow Is Another Day, is vast, its circles and lines evoke cells and the body, as well as planets. According to Bedford and Siegel, “These paintings vividly represent the sense of organic process that animates the entire Pavilion, and Oracle in particular, invoking the fragility and wonder of life. Bradford speaks to specific social contexts, as is so often noted. This installation embraces as well the most basic material conditions that touch us all.”

Concluding the progression through the Pavilion, a single video work by Bradford, Niagara from 2005, takes on new meaning for both the artist and the contemporary viewer, in which black identity continues to evolve and “Black Lives Matter” is an ongoing national conversation. The video depicts Melvin, the artist’s former neighbor, walking away from the camera, just as Marilyn Monroe did in the 1953 film of the same name. We feel the abstracted, invisible violence that threaten retribution for Melvin’s self and sexuality, and his agency in insisting on walking into another tomorrow.

PROCESS COLLETTIVO: Rio Terà dei Pensieri / Mark Bradford
Process Collettivo is informed by Bradford’s distinctive vision and leverages the world stage of La Biennale di Venezia to foster a deeper understanding of the limitations of penal systems. The collaboration supports a social cooperative model that addresses some of those limitations by creating a bridge of opportunity for inmates and those recently released. Launched in conjunction with the Biennale, the collaboration is manifest in a storefront space in the Frari district of Venice. Developed and programmed by Rio Terà dei Pensieri and Bradford, the storefront sells artisanal goods made by Venice prison inmates; provides opportunities for employment to formerly incarcerated individuals; and functions as a resource center for former inmates to receive support services, including access to job training, housing, mental health services, and workshops that teach practical skills. All proceeds from merchandise sales support Rio Terà dei Pensieri in expanding and sustaining the cooperative for years to come. Throughout Process Collettivo, Rio Terà dei Pensieri and Bradford are assessing the project’s impact in improving the lives of former inmates and aiming to reshape the negative perceptions surrounding the penal system and the formerly incarcerated. The collaboration will continue to evolve over a six-year period.

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