Anna Katherine Brodbeck on Dove Bradshaw


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Dove Bradshaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 2003

Dove Bradshaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 ½ inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published byt Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell

Dove Bradshaw’s portable retrospective from 2003, BRADSHAW: Limited Edition Box,1 undoubtedly elicits for the reader associations with Marcel Duchamp–associations readily acknowledged by the artist. Calling to mind Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (1935-41) and, to a lesser extent, his Large Glass (1915-23), Bradshaw reproduces her oeuvre for the collector, accompanied by Thomas McEvilley’s monograph on her work, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy. A self-proclaimed student of Duchamp, John Cage, and Eastern religion, Bradshaw advances and complicates this particular legacy, a legacy with which many artists who began their careers in the 1960s have historically grappled.

There is an overarching tension active in Bradshaw’s work, which is key to understanding the unique contribution of her oeuvre: namely its oscillation between nature and culture. McEvilley eloquently discusses this dichotomy in a conversation with John Cage, published in the monograph. Speaking of a piece in which Bradshaw had subjected a chessboard to a liver of sulfur treatment, which subsequently altered the work’s appearance as it was exposed to air over time, McEvilley states, “This is really what I see as a main theme of Dove’s work…the distinction between nature and culture. The grid of the chessboard signifies culture; the amorphous, changing, process-oriented, unpredictable and hence unknowable ground is nature. And it continues to change.”2

Left: <em>Spent Bullet</em> and Right: <em>Plain Air</em> from Dove Bradshaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 2003

Left: Spent Bullet and Right: Plain Air from Dove Bradshaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 1/2 inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell


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BRADSHAW provides a perfect example of the paradox of this distinction: while the subtitle of the monograph references “nature,” the presentation of the individual pieces in an archival box sometimes bows to the effects of nature and other times not. For instance, the copper plate behind Spent Bullet is partially exposed to the air and records an ever-changing imprint of that opening. The same is true for Contingency, since its chemistry is unfixed, as well as for Indeterminacy in regard to the use of unstable mercury. Other works, however, are rarefied by archival printing and mats or, in the case of the mercury, by encasement in a glass vial. Bradshaw thereby plays with the nature/culture distinction in each work.

Plain Air (1969-1991) is perhaps the most straightforward exploration of this paradox. This archival silver gelatin print captures the installation Bradshaw created by unleashing two mated pairs of birds in a room with a bicycle wheel hung from the ceiling and a Zen archer’s target nailed to the floor, recalling Dada and Neo-Dada emblems. In their dynamic movements among these symbols of human achievement, the birds perform, most literally, the oscillation between the poles of nature and culture. A similar flux can be observed in another photograph, Herself in the Element (2002), which presents a nude with her back to the viewer, calling to mind Man Ray’s Le Violin d’Ingres (1924). In place of Man Ray’s F-holes, however, painted on the woman’s back are the names of the chemical elements that compose the human body, in descending order by weight. The O around the woman’s neck denotes oxygen, followed by carbon, hydrogen, and so on, with the words becoming progressively smaller until they appear illegible (at this scale). The image of the woman’s back, which can be seen both to represent the unknowable ground of nature and to reference the Dada master’s photograph, is layered with another ambiguous nature/culture oscillation: the linguistic representation of the biological elements that constitute a human being.

Left: <em>Spent Bullet</em and Right: <em>Indeterminacy</em> from Dove Bradshaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 2003

Left: Spent Bullet and Right: Indeterminacy from Dove Bradshaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 1/2 inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell


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In Spent Bullet (1969/2003), a copper-encased lead bullet that was shot is soldered onto a copper sheet, suggesting metaphors of natural beauty rather than of man-made destruction. It is a rare example of the artist’s political work, the Utopian desire for spent bullets to be retired as works of art or worn as jewelry. Contingency Pour (1984/2002), a study in the reaction of silver to liver of sulfur, is complicated and unpredictable; this work clearly identifies change. However, Contingency Pour is still encased in mat board, which protects the other works in the box from the volatile chemical, again leading us to consider how the box’s individual pieces are contained and displayed. Indeterminacy (1993) consists of seven drops of mercury floating in a glass vial sealed with wax. It is indeterminate in the sense that the mercury is not fixed, although a tiny tag affixed to the bottle, reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, warns the viewer not to touch, ingest, or inhale, thus sealing and cordoning off what is naturally hazardous.

Left: <em>Spent Bullet</em> and Right: <em>Contingency Pour</em> from Dove Bradshaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 2003

Left: Spent Bullet and Right: Contingency Pour from Dove Bradshaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 1/2 inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell


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In conversation with McEvilley about Bradshaw’s work, Cage notes how “Marcel Duchamp said, speaking of Utopia, that we won’t be able to reach it till we give up the notion of possession. And this work of Dove’s confronts possession completely.”3

Dove Bradshaw, <em>Performance</em>, from Dove Bradhsaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 1964/1992

Performance from Dove Bradshaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 1/2 inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell


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As a multiple, BRADSHAW 4 defies the aura of scarcity afforded a unique object, promoting a more democratic conception of possession since it is an edition of 40, albeit in limited supply. This possibility of multiple possession is played out most creatively in a piece included in the box, Performance (1976-1992), in which Bradshaw appropriated a standard fire hose inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as her own work. She then made a postcard out of its image, slipping a stack at a time amongst the postcards of her peers in the twentieth-century racks in the Museum gift shop. Though the staff knew it was not Museum-produced, they became complicit and sold Bradshaw’s postcard for years. The silver gelatin print used in this original postcard was eventually accessioned into the Museum’s collection, followed by the hose itself in 2007. This skewed notion of possession—that Bradshaw could “claim” a fire hose as her own art, have a self-published postcard sold to visitors in the gift shop, and in turn prompt the Museum to acquire the original photograph for its collection in order to produce its own postcard fourteen years later—represents a guerilla alternative to the traditional circuits of ownership and distribution. The Museum has since mounted a wall label next to the fire hose, identifying it as Bradshaw’s work and thus completing the circle.

Left: <em>Spent Bullet</em> and Right: <em>Herself in the Element</em> from Dove Bradshaw, <em>The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change and Indeterminacy</em>, 2003

Left: Spent Bullet and Right: Herself in the Element from Dove Bradhsaw, The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, 2003, artist’s book: mixed media, 13 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 3 1/2 inches (34.9 x 30.2 x 8.9 cm), closed. Published by Mark Batty Publisher, New York. © Dove Bradshaw / Photo: Laura Mitchell


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BRADSHAW: Limited Edition Box ultimately complicates the dichotomies of nature versus culture and unique object versus multiple, all while challenging classic notions of possession and distribution. Like the wild birds flying between the bicycle wheel and the archer’s target, Bradshaw’s work is alive, even when contained in a closed box.


1. Public Collections: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The New York Public Library; The National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; The Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
2. Thomas McEvilley, “Dove Bradshaw: Works 1969-1993. A Conversation between John Cage and Thomas McEvilley” in The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy (New Jersey: Mark Batty Publisher, 2003), 83.
3. Ibid.
4. Each copy of BRADSHAW: Limited Edition Box contains in addition a “Special,” a seventh piece–a unique work added as each box is acquired.

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Dove Bradshaw

Dove Bradshaw (b. 1949, New York, NY) earned her BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1974). She has been awarded the National Endowment of the Arts Award for Sculpture (1975) and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award for Painting (1985). Bradshaw has received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts through the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for décor and costumes (1987); the Furthermore Foundation (2003) for assistance with the publication of The Art of Dove Bradshaw: Nature, Change, and Indeterminacy, Thomas McEvilley’s monograph on her work; and the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program of the National Science Foundation (2006). She has been an artist in residence at The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney, Scotland (1995); Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, Ireland (2000); Niels Borch Jensen, Copenhagen (2001, 2008 and 2011); the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art, France (2007); and Palazzo Durini, Bolognano, Italy (2007). Bradshaw has had two mid-career exhibitions: Dove Bradshaw at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1998), and Dove Bradshaw, Formformlessness, 1969-2003 at the City University of New York (2003). Her work Radio Rocks, commissioned by Lucrezia Durini, became a permanent work for the town of Bolognano in 2006. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Pierre Menard Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts (2008); Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Köln (2011); and Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2008, 2012). A solo exhibition is scheduled for 2013 at Danese, New York. Bradshaw has been included in group exhibitions at numerous venues, most recently Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg (2008); the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, Segovia, Spain (2009); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009); the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (2010); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde, Denmark (2011); the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia (2011); the Esbjerg Kunstmuseum, Denmark (2012); and Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2012). Her 2011 film SPACETIME, scored to John Cage’s Ryoanji, was screened with a live performance by L’Ensemble Mesostics at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris. In 2012 Bradshaw presented a lecture at the Sorbonne on John Cage, entitled Still Conversing with Cage. Bradshaw lives and works in New York City. More information about her work can be found at www.dovebradshaw.com.

Katherine Brodbeck

Anna Katherine Brodbeck (b. 1985, Los Angeles, CA) is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where she specializes in modern and contemporary Latin American art. Katherine’s doctoral research concerns Brazilian art of the 1960s and 1970s and its creative relationship to contemporary international art, with a special emphasis on the artist Artur Barrio. She is currently an assistant curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. She lives and works in New York City.