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Exhibitions and Events

‘Spiderman’ exhibition at UMMA explores race, gender and sexuality

By Dave Lawrence

Mark Bradford's "Spiderman" will run from July 30–November 27, 2016
The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) will present “Spiderman,” a media installation by Mark Bradford that touches on issues of race, gender, HIV/AIDS and homophobia, that runs from July 20 to Nov. 27, 2016.

During the six-minute video, there is no performer to see. Instead, the viewer is presented with a red spotlight on the floor and an audio track accompanied by running text of Bradford’s script as he assumes the character of a black transgender comedian who delivers a routine to a laughing audience.

Bradford first exhibited “Spiderman” at UCLA’s Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as part of a larger exhibition titled “Scorched Earth,” which examined the moment and afterlife of the 1992 uprisings in Los Angeles.

“We all have these stereotypes of gender and race and class in our brains,” Bradford says in the  “Scorched Earth” exhibition catalogue. “So I just wanted to inhabit that space, that dark space, and I wanted people’s imaginations to take over and understand that imagination itself.”

Bradford’s act is also reminiscent of and provoked by the raw, often homophobic and misogynistic rants of 1980s stand-up comedy acts—particularly Eddie Murphy’s controversial 1983 concert film “Delirious.”

Having seen Murphy’s act in person, Bradford, a gay African-American artist based in Los Angeles, noted the seismic shift in 1980s comedic vernacular in which racist and sexist commentary entered the mainstream.

“The piece is about that moment of hysteria and fear and homophobia in the eighties, and the black community’s relationship to it,” Bradford says in an interview with The New Yorker. “I’m fascinated by these moments when something goes from being taboo to being socially acceptable.”

“Spiderman” is one of only a few video installations by Bradford, who is more widely known for his abstract, layered paintings and mixed-media collages. UMMA’s installation presents a rare and important opportunity to view this lesser-known aspect of the artist’s work.

“Mark Bradford’s work touches on critical issues facing our culture today at the intersection of race, gender identity and sexuality,” said Joseph Rosa, UMMA director.  “We look forward to the dialogue that will take place around this exhibition.”

UMMA admission is free. Galleries are open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.Sunday 12 to 5 p.m.; and closed on Mondays and university holidays: July 4, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

*Note that “Spiderman” includes graphic language and references, and is intended for mature audiences only.

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