Model Mad, Painter

Mr. Bradford surveying the rotunda of the pavilion replica. Joshua White

We appreciate Mark Bradford’s concern about how he can represent the United States when he no longer feels represented by his government. Many of us on this platform are trying to find ways to express the same concern without resorting to nihilism, dystopic or other forms of hopelessness.

It takes an artist like Mr. Bradford to remind us of how we can creatively address this concern. It has the true ring of the same core concern driving others in the arts we have been pointing to in the model mad series. Thanks to Jori Finkel and the Arts section of the New York Times for An Artist’s Mythic Rebellion for the Venice Biennale:

LOS ANGELES — Mark Bradford, one of America’s most acclaimed painters, could not figure out what to put in the grand rotunda.

This artist, who is set to represent his country in May at the 2017 Venice Biennale, found an unusual way of working long-distance. In a warehouse in South Los Angeles, not far from where he grew up, he created a full-size model of the Biennale’s United States pavilion, a stately building with echoes of Monticello.Then he spent the last year testing out his ideas in it.

“This a Jeffersonian-type space, something you see in state capitols,” he said, pointing to its central dome. “I wanted it to feel like a ruin, like we went into a governmental building and started shaking the rotunda and the plaster started falling off. Our rage made the plaster fall off the walls.”

With a nod to its Palladian architecture, Mr. Bradford often calls his pavilion the White House. As in: “I wanted to bring the White House to me.”

Sitting on a crate, his long legs extended, Mr. Bradford, 55, was confronting a pressing concern beyond exhibition plans: How can he represent the United States abroad at a time when — as a black, gay man and a self-proclaimed “liberal and progressive thinker” — he no longer feels represented by his own government.

The broad social changes in America — from the police violence that ignited the Black Lives Matter movement to the messages of hate that he feels were unleashed by the November election — fueled a personal sense of crisis that permeates much of his forthcoming show in Venice, “Tomorrow Is Another Day.”

He remembered being invited to the Obama White House with other artists two years ago and feeling that “our voices mattered — fast-forward, and now they’re talking about cutting the N.E.A.,” he said, shaking his head.

And, aware of his own status as an international art star with million-dollar sales, he expressed concern for those more vulnerable.

“I felt like a lot of the progress we’ve made to be inclusive, to make sure young little trans kids are safe, was gone in the blink of an eye,” he said. “Making this body of work became very, very emotional for me. I felt I was making it in a house that was burning.”

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