Mithra (2008) by Mark Bradford. Installation view at Prospect 1, New Orleans. As reproduced in our Mark Bradford book

Mark Bradford’s ark is heading for Shanghai

The artist's 2008 ark-like sculpture, Mithra, will feature in Bradford’s largest show in China, later this summer

Mark Bradford is so closely associated with his home city of LA, that his forthcoming show at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai – his largest ever in China – is called 'Mark Bradford Los Angeles'. 

However, one of the largest works in this new exhibition, which is free and opens at the end of July, didn’t actually come from that city at all. As the critic Sebastian Smee writes in our Mark Bradford monograph, the artist’s huge, ark-like sculpture, Mithra, which will travel overseas for the first time for this show, is actually a Louisiana creation. 

“Bradford, in the wake of the national crisis that was Hurricane Katrina, went to New Orleans to participate in ‘Prospect.1’, the biennial exhibition curated by Dan Cameron,” explains Smee. “The artist explored the devastated Lower Ninth ward on foot and asked residents about their needs. He made a big new painting, Mithra (2008), and with help from other participants in the biennial, organized an auction that raised more than $120,000. 

“‘When you go to somebody’s else’s community, you have to ask them what they need’, he told curator Hamza Walker. ‘And I most certainly didn’t think they needed art catalogues. Cash – they needed cold hard cash, a check to clear.’ 


Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford

“He then got to work constructing an ark. A precursor to Bell Tower, his giant ‘Jumbotron’ at the airport, the 64-feet-long ark was made from three shipping containers armoured in salvaged plywood fencing, itself covered in scraped and peeling paper. Mithra, as it was called too, was placed in the Lower Ninth, where it stood sentry, mute and implacable, for 100 days.” 

While Smee's biblical reference seems obvious, Bradford’s own title, Mithra, actually refers to an ancient, pre-Christian deity, which guards the truth, as well as harvests and the waters. It certainly sounds like something the people of New Orleans could have used a little over a decade ago, and it will certainly speak of their plight, in a very different setting, this summer. 


Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford

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