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Mark Bradford with his work “Scorched Earth” (2006). (A.J. Zanyk/The Ohio State University)

Of the opportunities once facing Mark Bradford, who is 6 foot 8, hoop dreams were probably among the more viable ones.

In the mid-1970s Mr. Bradford, then a teenager, shocked everyone — including himself — by growing 10 inches in a single summer. Strangers on the streets here in his hometown kept badgering him with unsolicited suggestions. “They would say, ‘If I were your height, I would be a basketball player and make a million dollars,’ ” Mr. Bradford said in an interview in September at his studio.

Instead he became an apprentice in his mother’s beauty shop. “It was my first defiant act,” he said.

Now 49, Mr. Bradford has the physical stature and refined, fluid movements of an athlete. But the endpapers he once used for curling hair have since found their way into his abstract collages, with titles referring to musicians like Tupac Shakur and Smokey Robinson. These, along with his political, spoofy videos (in one he’s in a Lakers-inspired purple-and-gold hoop skirt, attempting to dunk a basketball), and mammoth paintings made from layers of glued-together posters torn from the fences of abandoned lots near his studio, have earned Mr. Bradford a 2009 MacArthur grant. And a 10-year survey of his paintings, sculptures and video installations, organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, has recently opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, where it will remain through March 13.

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Dorothy Spears
New York Times

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Mark Bradford’s “A Truly Rich Man Is One Whose Children Run Into His Arms Even When His Hands Are Empty.’’ (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

Imposing and even quite grand at a distance, Mark Bradford’s paintings, like the sprawling cities they evoke, suggest ruins up close.

They are ruins — the ruins of other modes of communication, other forms of speech. One over the other, Bradford layers old billboard signs, maps, and street posters. They’re salvaged, shredded, stripped, glued on, and rubbed back.

Working intuitively, he converts all these materials and more into works of art that are dense with history, freighted not only with political and social readings but with an abiding, poignant silence.

It’s the silence that gets under your skin. To wander around Bradford’s superb survey show at the Institute of Contemporary Art is to oscillate between the desire to get up close and even to touch (the impulse to run your fingers over their corrugated surfaces is almost impossible to resist) and a growing sense that you are in fact looking on from unreadable distances, like a general watching a chaotic battle from the top of a distant knoll, or an uncomprehending politician flying high over a disaster zone.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

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