The Secret Stars of Morton C. Bradley

Having rarely exhibited and never sold any of his artwork, Morton C. Bradley left his entire body of work--more than 300 pieces--to Indiana University.

Browsing through the 19th-century American paintings in the Indiana University Art Museum, you may notice that many in the collection have the same provenance. The same name comes up at the Lilly Library and the Wylie House Museum.

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As it turns out, collector Morton C. Bradley (1912-2004) was also an artist, who, given his ancestral ties to the university, left his entire oeuvre along with the rest of his estate, to IU.

Raised in the east and educated at Harvard, Bradley worked as an art conservator before he started making abstract geometric sculptures in 1966. Based on the Platonic solids, and painted according to the Munsell color system, the polychrome forms fashioned from paper, wood, metal and Plexiglas were given poetic, or mythical names such as Castor and Pollux.

“I would call these fantastical variations on themes of Pythagoras, perhaps” commented Allan Edmonds, IU Professor of Mathematics. “People don’t realize how much beauty and art are relevant to mathematics as well.”

Although Bradley conceived of the sculptures, most of them were fabricated by others.

Bradley was still creating sculptures at the time of his death in 2004. Having rarely exhibited and never sold any of his work, Bradley left the entire body of more than 300 pieces to IU.

Sherry Rouse, curator of campus art, is responsible for identifying appropriate locations to display the work. She has overseen installations of Bradley’s sculptures in the Wells Library, the School of Law Library, and on the third floor of the Kelley School of Business Godfrey Graduate and Executive Education Center.

But Rouse and her colleagues now face the larger task of reconstructing Bradley’s position in the scope of 20th-century art and ideas. “He was a true original,” reflected IU Art Museum director Heidi Gealt, “in the sense that he just followed his own path.”

As part of the effort to carve out a niche for this exceedingly private figure, a Bradley symposium took place at the IU Art Museum recently, attended by mathematicians, computer and cognitive scientists, artists and art historians from around the country.

In addition, the enigmatic figure will get the thorough art historical treatment in a soon-to-be-published study by Lynn Gamwell of New York’s School of Visual Arts.

“One of our big jobs now is to disseminate the sculptures,” curator Rouse explained. “We’d like to put them in some large institutions where they would get some big play, not just have them all in the state of Indiana, we think that’s not doing justice to this artwork.”

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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  • http://www.artshaiti.com LeGrace Benson

    The REAL “secret star” is Morton Bradley himself, whose work lies quite outside the more visible orbits of such other important creators as Frank Stella (is the name and accident?)and others. These works are worthy to be more widely seen and appreciated.

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