Artist Mark Bradford Blasts Auction Houses at Party Hosted by… Christie’s

"This is not where artists want to see themselves."

Mark Bradford.
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.
Left to right: Thelma Golden, Robert Glasper, and Mark Bradford.

Left to right: Thelma Golden, Robert Glasper, and Mark Bradford. Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

An unexpectedly hilarious instance of art worlds colliding happened at Christie’s on Wednesday evening (May 4). The occasion was a lively panel discussion about process and creativity led by Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, featuring Grammy-award winning musician/composer Robert Glasper and rock-star artist Mark Bradford.

When Golden asked Bradford to “name one, single, significant influence” on his work, the LA-based artist responded: “Well, there’s a lot of them, a couple are here in the room.”

He gestured to works hanging nearby by Glenn Ligon, and Kerry James Marshall as he ticked their names off and then added: “Right here unfortunately in the Christie’s auction house room.”

Steinway-Mark Bradford - Thelma Golden

Mark Bradford and Thelma Golden. Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

On a roll, Bradford continued, “But okay… they know what I’m talking about! This is not where artists want to see themselves. We love you, but you know… It is what it is. It’s a relationship that’s over.”

He then mimicked a hurt lover, saying plaintively: “‘But I thought you said you loved me,'” again, to the delight of the crowd. “Let’s just let that out,” he added.

He then returned to an inspired discussion of Ligon’s influence on his work.

The aside was a rare moment of honesty, albeit delivered somewhat humorously, in front of a packed house. It evokes a history of artists’s uneasiness with their secondary market that encompasses Robert Rauschenberg’s 1973 confrontation with his collector Robert Scull, after he sold his famous collection at Sotheby’s, and Chuck Close’s famous quip, “I think that for an artist to go to an art fair, it’s like taking a cow on a guided tour of a slaughterhouse.”

For artists, the frenetic secondary market sales can produce major anxiety, affecting both their primary market sales and reputation. This particular auction season, Bradford’s work is in particular evidence, as Scott Reyburn noted in his preview.

The Christie’s event itself was part of an unusual collaboration of many different art world venues—Christie’s itself, museums, performers, and artists. The Steinway Commission is the brainchild of the piano company’s CEO Mike Sweeney, along with Walker Art Center director Olga Viso, MoCA Los Angeles director Philippe Vergne, and Golden herself.

Steinway-Robert Glasper and Guests 2

Robert Glasper performs at the Steinway piano designed by Mark Bradford. Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

The series, which is set to continue for the next three years, involves pairing up an artist and a musician, for designing a Steinway piano and performing original music on it, respectively. Christie’s will auction the piano on May 11, with an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be split by the three aforementioned institutions (MoCA, the Walker, and the Studio Museum).

The crowded event kicked off with a champagne cocktail reception in Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries, where an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art was installed for previews ahead of Christie’s major auctions next week. Glasper performed a striking original piece that he composed—for the first time ever—on the Bradford-designed piano. Not even Bradford himself had heard the piece.

Bradford has ascended to art world royalty status in recent years, reaffirmed most recently by being selected to represent the US in the next Venice Biennale.

His distaste for auctions aside, the artnet Price Database shows that on the whole, his work appears to have performed quite well at auction so far. There were a whopping 79 results listed.

The top price was a hefty $5.8 million paid this past October at Phillips London for a 2013 painting, Constitution IV, which surpassed the top end of the $3 million to $4.6 million estimate.

Presumably the fact that this painting was flipped at auction within just a two short years after its creation/acquisition is not to his liking; it shows that the interest in his work is, at least partly, speculative. The provenance lists the work at a London exhibition at White Cube gallery in late 2013-early 2014 as part of a solo show, when it was acquired for a private collection.

Clearly its ownership after the gallery show was a short-lived, but profitable one.

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