The Un-Private Collection: Mark Bradford, Sharon Lockhart + Katy Siegel
by Nancy Kay Turner
The Un-Private Collection is a series of sparkling, often intimate conversations between artists and their interviewers (sometimes curators, gallerists, friends or even famous musicians). This is part of the Broad’s mission to bring their collection to the public. The last conversation was held August 16 with Mark Bradford, Sharon Lockhart and Katy Siegel. Both artists have work in the current Venice Biennale and the evening began with Sharon Lockhart discussing her work with Polish teenaged girls. Apparently while in Poland five or six years ago, she found newspapers from 1926-1939 from Nasz Przeglad (Our Review), and noticed a supplement written entirely by children entitled Maly Przegla (Little Review). Lockhart mentioned Janusz Korezak as the inspiration for her work. Korezak was a Polish pediatrician, children’s author and child advocate (his real name was actually Henryk Goldzmit) who started summer camps for forgotten children and made this his life’s work. He designed Dom Sierot, an orphanage for Jewish children where the children had a their own court, parliament and newspaper Nasz Przegla. It is this paper and Korezak’s views on raising children that strongly influenced Lockhart.
Nowhere in Lockhart’s presentation was Korezak’s Jewishness mentioned even though he was taken, with all the children at his camp, to Treblinka extermination camp where he died August 7, 1942. Puzzled at first, when I did some research on his background, I realized that Lockhart’s work might not have been chosen to represent Poland had she included that part of his biography. On the bright side, Lockhart was instrumental in getting many of the Little Review papers translated to English and to revive interest in Korezak and his belief that all children should be treated with respect.
Lockhart has been working with about a dozen girls from the Youth Center for Socio-Therapy Center, which is a state residence in Rudzienko, Poland. Apparently, these state houses are to help children who are in some way “maladjusted” and need a range of treatments (this was not covered in the discussion). Lockhart had befriended a young girl named Milena years earlier and the girls who are participating in this project are all her peers. The project is on going and has research and educational components. Lockhart functions as a mentor/teacher/guide to the girls assigning research projects (for eample, read the Little Review and pick the most pressing 29 issues.) She visited several times a year over five to six years. The girls spent time in the archives of the National Library in Warsaw viewing the original Little Review children supplements and translating them.
Lockhart’s work is in film and photography and her spare installation at the Biennale has several large -scale color photographs (each populated by only one girl.) There are a few benches from the library that she and the girls went to for their research. There is a filmic plinth against a black wall with projections of the girls. Each girl chose a word from her journal (such as “sex”, “hope”, “trust”, “love”, and “hate”) that would punctuate her section of the film. The girls decided on how to move and how long their section would be. Lockhart purposely presented the girls without context as each one is seen in slow motion while miming an action. In Lockhart’s 25 year career she has examined many social issues and human interactions (work, play, team sports), often in other countries as well as our own. At this particular time in our history, to focus on children and the news is very timely as is Janusz Korzcak’s comment that “the news is to tell the truth.” However, with the recent wave of increased anti-Semitism world -wide and especially in the United States, I felt that Lockhart’s decision to leave out the discrimination, which led to Korzcak’s death and millions of others cast a pall over the work for me.
Next up to the plate, was the charismatic and very tall Mark Bradford who was a wonderful speaker. He explained the genesis of his pavilion entitled “Tomorrow is Another Day” (the last lines from the movie Gone With The Wind.) This classic film is a dated representation of race seen through only white eyes. He chose this title because the US Pavilion with its white columns reminded him of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s abode (where he fathered numerous children with the enslaved Sally Hemmings.) Actually as an aside, very recently through renovations, a small windowless bedroom was uncovered adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom, which gives further credence to his conjugal relationship with Hemmings. Bradford had a large scale model of the space built in his Los Angeles studio but eventually scrapped the planned installation (he decided that he wanted to present it as a ruin instead) when he got to the actual space.
Bradford expertly wove his autobiography into the presentation, which enriched the experience. He spoke about being a gawky, gay, black boy and how the strong black women in his life helped him navigate through the dangerous shoals of childhood as bullies taunted him. He also worked in his mother’s beauty parlor and in one piece at the Biennale he uses hair-salon endpapers dipped in dye to create a large sculptural Medusa- a strong woman with lots of snakes for hair! The first room of the three rooms in the pavilion has an enormous red and back hanging sculpture that takes up so much space viewers must intentionally navigate perilously against the walls (a metaphor for the uneasiness of enslaved persons). Bradford also had the front door closed so that everyone would have to come in from the side door like servants and enslaved people. When he got to the third room, he felt submerged by it and he got the idea of not being in reconstruction but rather, in collapse. He talked about rage and wanting to carve out a subterranean cave for rage. Expertly mixing the personal with the political, the mythic with the ordinary, Bradford’s installation is paradoxically silly and serious.
There is a also a poignant video, which shows a black man in yellow shorts, probably gay, with an odd gait, walking down the street in South Central. He seems to be walking forward but never really gets anywhere. A metaphor for so many things- most notably the Civil Rights movement and how just when you think we’ve made progress, some policeman shoots an unarmed black man or woman. Bradford describes it as a counter narrative to the macho narrative of South Central as exemplified by the misogynistic lyrics of hip-hop music. Bradford describes this as a mixture of vulnerability and strength. He also eloquently called himself an artist who makes art and not “a black artist.”
Like Sharon Lockhart’s art practice, which involves social issues, Bradford has also been engaged with Rio Tera dei Pensieri, a small cooperative that works with a small prison on Giudecca Island. Bradford said that you don’t think of a prison when you think of Venice, Italy. He asked the prisoners what they needed and what they wanted. They wanted a store and to be visible. Bradford made that happen and funds it himself. The men’s collective makes and sells handbags and the women sell produce in front of the prison. Like Lockhart, Bradford learned to listen and then build a sustainable program. They both said that one can be both in the real world and the art world by creating a fluid border between the two. After this last election, many artists felt helpless and expressed the thought that they might be the wrong person for this moment in history. Both Lockhart and Bradford are beacons of light leading the way for an art practice that is both personal and political, while creating caring communities among the disadvantaged. Happily, the girls that Lockhart worked with and the collective that Bradford worked with were allowed to come to the Biennale and see their exhibits.