Internationally renowned artist Mark Bradford (b. 1961) debuted one of his largest works to date with Pickett’s Charge, a monumental new commission that spans nearly 400 linear feet.
Bradford drew inspiration for this new work from French artist Paul Philippoteaux’s nineteenth-century cyclorama, currently on view in Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania. Philippoteaux’s cyclorama depicts Pickett’s Charge—the final charge of the Battle of Gettysburg, which historians cite as the critical turning point of the Civil War and, consequently, of American history (view 360 video of the 1883 original). Working with a combination of colored paper and reproductions of the original, Bradford transformed the historic Gettysburg imagery into a series of eight powerful, abstract paintings. By cutting, tearing, and scraping through the layers, Bradford reveals the hidden textures and complexities lurking just beneath the surface. Each painting is more than forty-five feet long, and together they encircle the entire Third Level inner-circle galleries.
The resulting work weaves past and present, illusion and abstraction, inviting visitors to reconsider how narratives about American history are shaped and contested. Posed with his trademark fearlessness, Bradford’s open questions—or rather, the deliberations his work elicits—are particularly timely in contemporary America. And considering that the Hirshhorn is situated on the National Mall, these questions are made even timelier.
Pickett’s Charge builds upon the Hirshhorn’s continued commitment to showcasing the ways that artists respond to the unique political and cultural climate of their time. Through its free exhibitions and public programs, the Hirshhorn is dedicated to fostering conversation around the forces that shape creative expression in the twenty-first century.
Bradford (b. 1961) is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work addresses socio-political issues such as race, class, and gender, while also engaging art history. For over two decades, he has expanded the language of abstraction by incorporating personal experience and historical significance into his works. In 2009, Bradford was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant, and in 2016, he was awarded the US Department of State’s national Medal of Arts.
Pickett’s Charge is Bradford’s first solo exhibition in Washington, DC, and his first major American solo show following his presentation as the US representative for the 57th Venice Biennale, a selection made possible by the US Department of State.
Curated by Evelyn Hankins, Senior Curator, and Stéphane Aquin, Chief Curator