Joe Bradley, installation views at Canada.
Reading the statement for Joe Bradley's exhibition at Canada (which runs concurrently with the Ab Ex-y paintings on view at Gavin Brown's Enterprise that I wrote about yesterday), and looking at the goofy silhouetted images, I wondered if this was a script from Saturday Night Live. After all, as reported by Katya Kazakina at Bloomberg, Steve Martin is a fan.
Bradley is interested in "the aura of life, evidenced through his struggle for depiction," the statement reads. "Figure ground relationships, the most taut relationship in the plastic arts, are the key field of battle for Mr. Bradley’s figuration. The clarity of black silhouette of the figures contrasted with the stark whiteness of the ground seems to state with certainty the primacy of the image. The slightest gesture: hands to the left or hands to right, knees bent or knees straight are ciphers for meaning in Mr. Bradley’s crypto-narrative...."
His motivations strike me as more cynical and wise-ass than this description implies, but I like Bradley's embrace of distinctly different visual languages like gestural abstraction and monochromatic minimalism. The traditional paradigm for painters, which galleries often encourage, has been to develop a recognizable style and doggedly refine it for an entire career. In an Art in America interview with Yasha Wallin, Bradley talked about the shifting styles. After the Whitney Biennial, "it was the end of the line for those modular pieces. They were a lot of pre-production. There wasn't a lot of play involved once formal decisions were made. I wanted the freedom that a painter has to let anything happen in the space of a rectangle." Bradley's shows have sold out, proving that radical change won't necessarily kill a painter's career.
"Between Bradley’s first solo show at Canada in 2006 and the Gavin Brown’s exhibition, his prices increased 1,106 percent," Katya Kazakina reports at Bloomberg. "Back then, his robot-like forms made of monochrome canvases were offered for $6,000. They didn’t immediately sell, but dealer Javier Peres spotted the artist and gave him a solo show in Los Angeles the following year. That got the attention of curator Shamim Momin, who included Bradley’s robots in the Whitney Biennial in 2008. Suddenly, everyone wanted a robot, Grauer said. But for his next show with Canada, Bradley delivered a group of sparse oilstick drawings on dirty unprimed canvases. Called 'Schmagoo Paintings,' the group included one canvas with number 23 drawn on it, one with a cross and a third with just one horizontal line.
“'I was like, ‘What? We cannot do that! Do you have some of those robots?' Grauer recalls telling the artist. 'I was jokingly telling Joe that he was throwing away a perfectly good career as a monochrome painter.' Despite the change, Bradley’s career and prices kept rising. In 2009, he was included in Charles Saatchi’s “Abstract America” exhibition in London. In February 2010, blue-chip Chelsea gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash showed Bradley’s blank large canvases in a group show, with prices ranging from $22,000 to $24,000. In November 2010, his robot painting 'Good Foot' (2008) fetched $60,000 at Phillips de Pury auction house in New York, up from the presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. Canada placed more than a half of the silkscreens in less than 24 hours of the opening last week. Most buyers already owned Bradley’s work and were familiar with his propensity for change, said Grauer.
"'They are willing to roll with Joe and with the prices,' he said. 'Joe is a brand they can trust.'”
NOTE: If you like silhouetted figurative work, I highly recommend checking out paintings by Bushwick artist Adam Simon who silhouettes generic images from stock photography catalogues.
"Joe Bradley: Human Form," Canada, New York, NY. Through February 21, 2011.
Joe Bradley meets Ab Ex
Holland Cotter: Unadventurous painting is everywhere (at least in New York)
Louise Fishman: Ignoring aesthetic wanderlust
Painting of the Day: "Meeting" by Adam Simon