SFMOMA Hits the Mark

Boats, maps, and beauty supplies converge in Mark Bradford’s mixed-media retrospective

When standing in front of Mark Bradford’s mural-sized collages, you’re likely to experience detailed minuteness and sweeping enormity at once. Pieces of posters and billboards, sanded down metal, license plates, glue, twine, layered paint, and hairdressing supplies (perm-end papers from his mother’s Los Angeles salon) all comprise the MacArthur fellow’s sprawling, map-like compositions.

For the past few months, Bradford’s self-titled retrospective has been wowing the crowds at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), just as it did at previous stints in Columbus, Dallas, Boston, and Chicago. The exhibition (up until June 17) showcases everything from the artist’s early paper collages to his more recent forays into video art and large-scale installation (namely the ark-like Mithra structure, which Bradford constructed specifically for on-site display in New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward). And while many of the works—which abstrusely regard themes of civil rights, urban planning, and immigration—might not seem child-friendly at first, Bradford’s mischievous incorporation of found objects and unexpected hidden details (perfect for an “I Spy” interaction) all heighten the show’s appeal for kids.

But Bradford’s ties to the younger set don’t end there. In 2011, he received national recognition for the Chicago-based “Mark Bradford Project,” part of Bradford’s mission to introduce high school students to art history, and the realities of being an artist in this day in age. The project recently concluded, but its teachings still ring true: “Kids need to know that they belong to a history of people like them—a history of people that sing, that dance, that draw…” Bradford said to Time Out Chicago Kids in 2011. “They’re not alone.”