Ultimately I’m using the painting as a sounding board for the spirit. . . . You can be painting and go into a place where thought stops—where you can just be and it just comes out. . . . I present it as an open situation rather than a closed situation.
Brice Marden continuously refines and extends the traditions of lyrical abstraction. Experimenting with self-imposed rules, limits, and processes, and drawing inspiration from his extensive travels, Marden brings together the diagrammatic formulations of Minimalism, the immediacy of Abstract Expressionism, and the intuitive gesture of calligraphy in his exploration of gesture, line, and color.
In 1963 Marden received an MFA from Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture, where his teachers included the painters Alex Katz and Jon Schueler. After graduation he worked as a guard at the Jewish Museum in New York. There, during a 1964 Jasper Johns retrospective, Marden studied Johns’s early works extensively and considered them in relation to the Baroque masters he has long admired, such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Francisco Goya, and Diego Velázquez. Marden’s works from the 1960s include subtle, shimmering monochromes in gray tones, sometimes assembled canvases into multipanel works, in a manner similar to the black paintings and White Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, who hired Marden as a studio assistant in 1966.
A trip to Greece in the early 1970s led Marden to create the Hydra paintings (1972), which capture the turquoise hues of the Mediterranean, and Thira (1979–80), a painting composed of eighteen interconnected panels inspired by the shadows and geometry of ancient temples. To heighten the effect of each color, plane, and brushstroke, Marden developed the unique process of adding beeswax and turpentine to oil paint and applying the mixture in many thin layers. Marden employed this technique for the Grove Group paintings (1972–76)—exhibited at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery in New York in 1991, along with related works—and the Red Yellow Blue paintings (1973–74)—five permutations of the primary trio—which were united for the first time since their making at Gagosian, 980 Madison Avenue, New York in 2013.
In the 1980s Marden began to incorporate organic, intersecting lines, creating rhythmic patterns over fields of color. He has been exploring these winding lines ever since, experimenting with blank space, erasure, and references to the natural world. He seeks to create a mystical experience through the creation of elusive abstract spaces. As his many themes and techniques have overlapped, Marden has sought to bring them together in cohesive, often multipart works, which he has described as his “summation paintings.” Among them is The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Third Version (2000–06), held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he had his first comprehensive retrospective in 2006.
In recent years Marden has continued his exploration of the qualities of monochrome. This engagement with muted colors has informed new calligraphic drawings and works on canvas, such as the Nevis Stele paintings (2007–15), inspired by Chinese stone carvings from the late eighth century. In 2017 he turned his gaze to the expansive possibilities of terre verte (green earth), an iron silicate clay pigment, which he first used in the Grove Group. His new paintings incorporate many different brands of terre verte, each a variation on the indefinable hue. Marden thins his slow-drying paint and applies it gradually to the canvas in many successive layers, leaving a visible residue of the painting process at the lower edge of each canvas.
It reminds me of something, and I don’t know what it is.
November 9–December 21, 2019
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Private Pages Made Public
Megan N. Liberty explores artists’ engagement with notebooks and diaries, thinking through the various meanings that arise when these private ledgers become public.
The River Café Cookbook
London’s River Café, a culinary mecca perched on a bend in the River Thames, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2018. To celebrate this milestone and the publication of her cookbook River Café London, cofounder Ruth Rogers sat down with Derek Blasberg to discuss the famed restaurant’s allure.
Intimate Grandeur: Glenstone Museum
Paul Goldberger tracks the evolution of Mitchell and Emily Rales’s Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. Set amid 230 acres of pristine landscape and housing a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art, this graceful complex of pavilions, designed by architects Thomas Phifer and Partners, opened to the public in the fall of 2018.
Brice Marden: Four Quartets
Four paintings by Brice Marden have been incorporated into a new dance commission based on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, with choreography by Pam Tanowitz, and music by Kaija Saariaho. The performance will premiere on July 6, 2018 at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard as part of the SummerScape Festival. Gideon Lester, the Fisher Center’s artistic director for theater and dance, spoke with Marden about the canvases that form the set design.
Robert Pincus-Witten on Brice Marden
In honor of Robert Pincus-Witten, we share an essay he wrote in 1991 on Brice Marden’s Grove Group.
Brice Marden, Gary Hume, and Tim Marlow
At the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Brice Marden sat down with fellow painter Gary Hume and the Royal Academy’s artistic director, Tim Marlow, to discuss his newest body of work.
Work in Progress
With preparations underway for a London exhibition, we visit the artist’s studio.
On Brice Marden’s Drawings
Wednesday, September 16, 2020, 7pm EDT
Join Lilly Wei, independent curator and critic, and Kelly Montana, assistant curator at the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, for a conversation on the arc of Brice Marden’s drawing practice and the critical influence that site has played in his work. The artist’s work is currently displayed in the Menil’s exhibition Think of Them as Spaces: Brice Marden’s Drawings. To watch the live conversation, visit the Menil’s YouTube channel.
Installation view, Think of Them as Spaces: Brice Marden’s Drawings, Menil Collection, Houston, February 21–October 11, 2020. Artwork © 2020 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Paul Hester
It reminds me of something, and I don’t know what it is.
Brice Marden: It reminds me of something, and I don’t know what it is. is available for online reading from June 15 through July 14 as part of the From the Library series. Published on the occasion of the 2019 exhibition at Gagosian, 980 Madison Avenue, New York, the catalogue features full-color reproductions of Marden’s latest body of paintings and works on paper, which continues the Letter series he initiated in 2006. The book includes a new essay by John Elderfield, in which the curator and art historian discusses the new works in the context of modernist painting and of Marden’s oeuvre, and investigates the allusions the works seem to make.
Brice Marden: It reminds me of something, and I don’t know what it is. (New York: Gagosian, 2020)
February 15–16, 2020
Center for the Art of Performance, University of California Los Angeles
Brice Marden is collaborating with choreographer Pam Tanowitz and composer Kaija Saariaho to present Four Quartets, a dance performance based on T. S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece published in 1943. The evocative stage design centers on paintings by Marden, their exquisite colors and imagery making connections to the geographical locations of the poem cycle’s four individual parts. Containing piercing and unforgettable literary passages, this unprecedented collaborative performance is the first to be authorized by the T. S. Eliot Estate. To attend the event, purchase tickets at cap.ucla.edu.
To learn more about the collaboration read an interview with Marden about the canvases that form the set design on Gagosian Quarterly.
Premiere of Four Quartets at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, July 6–8, 2018. Photo: Maria Baranova
Think of Them as Spaces
Brice Marden’s Drawings
Through October 11, 2020
Menil Collection, Houston
Think of Them as Spaces: Brice Marden’s Drawings is an exploration of the artist’s draftsmanship and of the catalytic role the medium plays within his practice. This exhibition presents six series of drawings that span nearly the entirety of Marden’s ongoing career, highlighting the processes of invention and permutation that occur as he works and thinks on paper.
Brice Marden, 15 × 15 10, 2015–17 © 2020 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Bill Jacobson
February 29–September 13, 2020
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Nigerian-born British designer Duro Olowu curates a show that reimagines relationships between artists and objects across time, media, and geography. Moving away from traditional exhibition formats, Olowu combines photographs, paintings, sculptures, and films in dense and textural scenes that incorporate his own work. Work by Brice Marden and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Ms. Lykes, 2015 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Process in Minimal Abstraction
December 18, 2019–August 2, 2020
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
During the 1960s and 1970s, many artists working with abstraction rid their styles of compositional, chromatic, and virtuosic flourishes. As some turned toward such minimal approaches, a singular emphasis on their interaction with materials emerged. The resulting pieces invite viewers to imaginatively reenact aspects of the creative process. Featuring paintings and works on paper, Marking Time explores how drawing attention to the creative process fosters a distinctively empathetic mode of engagement. Work by Brice Marden and David Reed is included.
Installation view, Marking Time: Process in Minimal Abstraction, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, December 18, 2019–August 2, 2020. Artwork, left to right: © 2020 David Reed/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Park Seo-Bo; © Chryssa; © 2020 Jacob El Hanani; © 2020 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Cold Mountain Studies
June 9–August 11, 2019
“T” Space, Rhinebeck, New York
The thirty-five Cold Mountain drawings on display were key creative experiments leading toward Brice Marden’s widely acclaimed Cold Mountain paintings of the late 1980s. Marden has credited the ninth-century Chinese monk and poet Hanshan (“Cold Mountain”) and translator Bill Porter with inspiring his stylistic shift from monochrome to calligraphic painting.
Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Study (29), 1988–91 © 2019 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York. Photo: Jochen Littkemann