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Los Angeles

For no eyes only: Mark Bradford’s quarantine paintings push the bounds of virtual art viewing

For his first online exhibition, the artist hangs paintings made during lockdown in isolation in an empty space atop Hauser & Wirth’s LA gallery

Installation view, Mark Bradford: Quarantine Paintings, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2020 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Joshua White / JWPictures

Online viewing rooms have become the norm for galleries to showcase work made during lockdown or scheduled pre-pandemic. But this week, the Los Angeles-artist Mark Bradford pushes the format further, introducing a conceptual overlay to what many have considered merely a stopgap until the art world reopens. The hybrid exhibition, Quarantine Paintings, presents a new series created during the county’s stay-at-home order, and unfolds in both the digital and physical realms, via Hauser & Wirth’s virtual platform, as well as its brick-and-mortar one.

Here’s the catch: although the canvases hang in what was formerly a mill for the Globe Grain & Milling Company atop the gallery’s downtown LA complex, nobody can see them in-person. Viewers experience the paintings exclusively online, through detailed images of their surfaces, alongside installation shots of the same work, equally inaccessible to collectors and the public. “When I thought about having an online show right now, I knew that I was not going to mimic what I do in a gallery,” says Bradford of a framework that reflect the loneliness of social distancing. “I was determined to find a way to occupy this digital space and also talk about the moment that we’re in. I kind of did it DIY and got a U-Haul, put the paintings in the back of a truck and lugged them up to the third floor. I wasn’t really thinking of an exhibition, so much as a happening.”

Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Sean Shim - Boyle

Bradford likens the environment to an archaeological ruin, as if someone knocked a wall down and stumbled on these paintings, unsure how long they’ve been there. “It felt like the space itself had been excavated,” he adds. “There were all these ghosts. But that’s exactly what it felt like as you drove down the street with everything shuttered. That’s what it felt like when you saw ghostlike images of New York City. The space echoed what I was seeing outside my window.”

Celebrated for sprawling, collaged compositions that mix paper and paint, Bradford questions issues of race and sexuality through the language of abstraction. “If ever there was a moment when you need abstract work to understand the world, it would be now,” he reflects on his quarantine paintings, titled Q1, Q2, and Q3. “How are we supposed to put all of these different things into one conversation? How do you put this administration together with the pandemic, together with protests around policing? It’s a lot to process. It’s a big, huge abstract social quilt.”