Bell Tower (2014) by Mark Bradford. Installation view at Los Angeles International Airport. As reproduced in our new Contemporary Artist Series book

Did you spot Mark Bradford at the airport?

If you’ve flown out of LA you’re probably more familiar with this American artist’s work than you may realise. . .

When Mark Bradford was young, for some reason he adored LAX. “He used to haunt Los Angeles Airport in his youth, demanding his mother take him to dine there so that they could watch the planes take off and land, and observe the new arrivals from faraway places,” writes the critic Sebastian Smee in our new book.

In the book Bradford confesses "a particular fondness" for the old international Pan Am terminal. Years later, the airport returned the compliment when its arts management installed a huge work by the artist in its international terminal. The piece, entitled Bell Tower, was created in 2014, and hangs above the security screening line, prior to departures, so that passengers and casual visitors alike can see it.

It’s a huge, four-sided work, made from wood, and covered with colour printed paper – bringing to mind the hand-bill covered wooden sidings that have inspired Bradford throughout his career.

Since the turn of the century the artist has collected what he calls ‘merchant posters’, advertisements printed on paper and pasted on billboards and plywood fencing, commonly erected around abandoned lots. “The posters advertised cheap transitional housing, foreclosure prevention, food assistance, debt relief, wigs, jobs, DNA-derived paternity testing, gun shows and quick cash, as well as legal advice for immigrants, child custody and divorce,” explains Smee.

“They were, said Bradford in 2009, ‘very clearly speaking to the needs of the people in the community who are passing by them every day. It’s not like popular culture, where it’s globalized. This is very localized. And what’s fascinating about it is that it changes so rapidly.’”


Mark Bradford, Los Angeles, 2017
Mark Bradford, Los Angeles, 2017

True to the work's name, it does resemble an oriental bell tower; yet it’s shape also brings to mind a ‘jumbotron’ – the multisided TV-screen common to so many music and sporting events.

The torn paper gives it a hand-made, billboard look, though its shape is worldly and high-tech – an aspect that’s heightened by its location, above the Transport Security Administration’s screening line.

“Standing under this Panopticon-like structure," writes Sebastian Smee, "it is hard not to think of the terrible weight of late modernity, and of Baudelaire’s ruminations on the modern flâneur." ‘To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world the spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.’”


Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford

For more on this important contemporary artist order a copy of our Mark Bradford book here.