Chris Bedford describes the moment that he learned he would be organizing the United States’ pavilion at the world’s preeminent art show, the Venice Biennale, as “a bit like the curator’s version of getting the call from the MacArthur Foundation [saying] that you’d won a Genius Grant.”
At the time, Bedford was head of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University, but he has since become executive director at the Baltimore Museum of Art, so as a result, one of Baltimore’s preeminent artistic institutions will have its day on the international stage. “The amazing thing about Venice is that, for a period of six months, you truly enjoy the attention of the international art world,” says Bedford. The BMA will have a spotlight on it “with an intensity that we have not enjoyed since we last represented the U.S. in Venice in 1960.”
The BMA will present the work of Mark Bradford, a painter who lives and works in Los Angeles. Baltimore will get the opportunity to see Bradford’s work at the beginning of 2018, once the Biennale (which occurs once every two years) closes in November. Bedford calls Bradford “the future of abstract expressionist painting, but he’s also the future of social engagement and social change through art. . . . He is precisely the right artist, and maybe the only artist, that could represent this country in 2017.”
Bradford’s large canvases incorporate industrial materials—“If Home Depot doesn’t have it,” Bradford told The New Yorker in 2015, “Mark Bradford doesn’t need it”—and frequently touch on political and social themes that he has experienced as an African American in an underserved urban community. Bedford says there will likely be a social component to his exhibit at the BMA as well.
It’s fitting “that the BMA, given its quality in history, be center stage internationally,” Bedford says, “and I hope that this sets the bar for us so that there is this level of attention very regularly.”