Heaven or Hell or Both

Installation view, Mark Bradford, Be Strong Boquan at Hauser and Wirth -- Deimos (film still), 2015; digital video with audio

MARK BRADFORD'S EXHIBITION Be Strong Boquan, now in Chelsea at Hauser and Wirth -- a gallery located on the former site of the legendary Roxy discotheque -- is a powerful site-specific channel to a bygone era of urban night life and sensuality. And whether specifically at the Roxy or in Bradford's own hometown of Los Angeles's South Central, or really any club anywhere in the late '70s and early '80s, these orgiastic and tribal sites of licentious and libidinous activities slowly came to an end, as their participants collapsed from the depredations of the AIDS health crisis of the '80s as well as from the inexorable pull of social forces of race hatred and the spiraling costs of urban living.


Installation view, Mark Bradford: Be Strong Boquan at Hauser and Wirth -- Dead Hummingbird, 2015; mixed media on canvas

As an installation, Be Strong Boquan has dreamlike weightlessness that is immediately set up by an almost 50-foot long triple video projection of fluorescent orange, car-sized wheels that bounce strangely across the screen, which upon further reflection appear actually to be the wheels from roller skates -- recalling the fact that before the Roxy was a nightclub it was a roller disco. Beyond are the exhibition's three main rooms of gloriously monochromatic paintings. These are complex paintings which feature all the classic Bradford elements of torn and layered papers, with brightly hued passages and in-painted and over-painted black. And these works seem to command a greater and more subtle layering of metaphors than Bradford's paintings have done in the past -- bringing to mind both wounds and scabs of the physical body as well as a sense of aerial geographic maps and the shatter marks of glass hit by bullets.

Mark Bradford: Cigarettes and Bubble Gum, 2015 (detail); mixed media on canvas

After beginning with the flying roller skate wheels and moving to the textured paintings, the exhibition culminates in a room featuring a "waterfall" of torn painting shards hanging from the ceiling and concludes in a final room with projection and sound score of a bawdy stand-up comedy performance. This is a very physical show. And everywhere there is a sense of fleeting memory, of performative ghosts. Be Strong Boquan does not so much recapitulate as apotheosize an era. Places like the Roxy were temples of dancing; they were places of where people danced tribally and pounded their home planet with feet expressing the joy of living here. Visiting this exhibition, you recall the weighty drumming on the ground and the sense of weightlessness that many sought, yearned for, captured... All of this is conjured up in this mysteriously haunting and sensually eloquent installation.

Mark Bradford: Be Strong Boquan
Now through December 23
Hauser & Wirth, 511 West 18th Street New York NY 10011
For more information, go here.

Below: Mark Bradford: Waterfall, 2015; mixed media


Also don't miss these two outstanding painting exhibitions:

Louise Fishman
Now through Saturday November 21
Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, New York NY 10001
For more information, go here.

Bridget Riley
Now through Saturday December 19
David Zwirner Gallery, 525 and 533 West 19th Street
For more information, go here.

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