The Edition

An Artful Homage to Roller Disco

Nov. 11, 2015

When Hauser & Wirth moved into its Dieter Roth-designed West 18th Street space two years ago, the gallery inherited an unexpected treasure trove: hundreds of roller skates left over from the former tenant, the famous Roxy roller disco. With the opening of Mark Bradford’s new exhibition, “Be Strong Boquan,” this past weekend, the history of the building comes back to life. Immediately upon entering the show, visitors encounter “Deimos,” a video installation depicting dozens of the little orange wheels from the Roxy’s skates, spinning from one end of the frame to the other. T premieres the video exclusively here (in the gallery, it’s displayed across three screens on one very long wall).

“Deimos” is playful and exuberant — but carries with it a sense of what’s missing. Themes of lack and loss resonate throughout the exhibition, which uses a variety of media to explore the politics of race and queerness, as well as the AIDS epidemic. (A standout series of canvases on display, which appear at first glance to be abstract compositions, were in fact loosely inspired by the molecular composition of human cells — including Kaposi’s sarcoma, the cancer that causes lesions in those infected with HIV.) In creating “Deimos,” Bradford explains, “I just really started to think about the Roxy and how we lost so many people around that time. The play between something super violent and something super beautiful: that’s where it came out of.”

Before Bradford created the video, Hauser & Wirth shipped him the skates, and he’d been surrounded by them in his studio for some time — “I hung them from things, it was great,” he says — but he couldn’t figure out how to incorporate them into his work. “And then I just thought, ‘The wheel! It’s all about the wheel anyway,’” he says. “As I was doing it, I noticed that sometimes the wheels would animate and you’d start to feel that they became people. And I thought, ‘Oh, they’ll create their own narratives.’”

In considering how to present the video, scale became symbolic. “Early language around the epidemic was almost epic, it was insane, it was like Biblical proportions,” he says. “A lot of the language around HIV was almost created, invented in popular culture. So I wanted to have a cinematic feel to it. And this idea of a cinema, which is dark, and the roller rink that’s dark — whizzing through these dark spaces and being free and anonymous.” The video is soundtracked by a version of the 1988 disco hit “Grateful,” which Bradford has slowed to a more contemplative tempo. Bradford knew its singer, the androgynous West Coast counterculture icon Sylvester, who died of AIDS in 1988. “I actually sat next to Sylvester at Catch One in Los Angeles, and she was done up and furred out, but you could tell she wasn’t well; it was one of the last times she was out,” he says. “I remember her very clearly. Sylvester had a big fox coat on and she would get on the dance floor and just twirl. Work, honey, work!”

As a teenaged club kid in the ’80s, Bradford witnessed both the AIDS crisis and a golden age of nightlife; “Be Strong Boquan” represents a kind of synthesis of both experiences. “Horror is okay, pain is okay, just as long as there’s light and hope with it; I’m okay with it, I can exist in both, and I’ve experienced large parts of both,” he says. “Eyes wide open, right?”

“Mark Bradford: Be Strong Boquan” is on view through Dec. 23 at Hauser & Wirth, 511 West 18th Street, New York,

Source: NY Times

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