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Brice Marden 
Biography of the painter and the exhibition at the Daros Collection in Zurich from June 14, 2003 to January 4, 2004

Article added on October 10, 2003
  
Since spring 2001, Daros Exhibitions in Zurich have been presenting semi-annual thematic or monographic groups of work from the Daros collections. The current exhibition (from June 14, 2003 until January 4, 2004) is dedicated to Brice Marden, who is represented in the Daros Collection with an important group of paintings. Thanks to a close collaboration with the painter and generous loans, largely from the artist's family, the exhibition presents 20 paintings and some 60 works on paper from 1964 to 2002, spanning from "the minimalistically reduced early work to the limpid and poetic late work".
 
Brice Marden was born on October 15, 1938 in Bronxville, New York. He grew up in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. He attended Florida Southern College, Lakeland, from 1957 to 1958. He studied at Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts from 1958 to 1961, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He attended Yale Norfolk Summer School of Music and Art in Norfolk, Connecticut, in summer of 1961, after which he studied at Yale University School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1963.

In 1960, Brice Marden married Pauline Baez, with whom he had a son, Nicholas. They later divorced. In 1969, Marden married Helen Harrington. In the summer of 1963, Brice and Pauline moved to New York. In 1963 and 1964, Marden worked as a guard at the Jewish Museum, where he began to study the work of Jasper Johns. In spring and summer of 1964, Warden was in Paris, where he was inspired by Alberto Giacometti. In the winter of 1964, Warden made his first monochromatic single-panel painting and his first solo exhibition was presented at the Wilcox Gallery, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.
 
Chronologically correct, the Daros exhibition opens with paintings consisting of one or several monochrome panels from 1964 to 1976. They are characterized by a stringent compositional syntax, a sparing use of painterly means and a nuanced palette of grays. These early abstract works make reference to Brice Mardens' surroundings, personal life and experiences. He devoted meticulous attention to the application of his paint, thereby generating an opacity and sensibility which has been heightened even more since 1966, through the addition of hot wax. 1966 was also the year of his first solo exhibition in New York, held at the Bykert Gallery, and the beginning of his work as general assistant to Robert Rauschenberg.

From 1969 to 1974, Brice Marden was a painting instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 1968, he created his first paintings with multiple panels. International recognition came in 1972, when some of his works were presented at Documenta in Kassel. As early as 1975, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York dedicated a retrospective to his work.

At the Daros exhibition,  Marden's Long Gulf (1971) recalls the view of the Gulf of Mexico. The horizontal format of the painting is underscored by the line that separates the two panels, one dark gray, the other light gray. The palette of Star (for Patti Smith) from 1972 is a vertical work in three panels. It is defined by the singer's pitch-black hair and light complexion. The much reduced visual vocabulary of the paintings is linked with the artist's personal impressions and feelings. Marden privileges intuition over intellectual knowledge, although fully aware of the interplay between the two.

In 1977, Brice Marden traveled to Rome and Pompeii. His increased interest in Roman and Greek art and architecture influenced his work of the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the Daros exhibition, Marden's interest in antiquity is documented by his works For Hera and Moon III. He has long cherished the writings of author and poet Robert Graves. In The White Goddess, Graves examines the myth of matriarchy and describes the "Triple Goddess" as maiden, mother, and destructress. Mardenís "additive" panels embody this existential triad, both externally and internally, spatially and conceptually. The three panels in For Hera indicate the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, while those in Moon III refer to the phases of the moon, which are determined by the constellation of moon, sun, and earth.
 
In time, Brice Marden produced increasingly complex painted architectures. Elements I, 1981-1982, consists of four panels in green, blue, red, and yellow. For the first time, an additive painting unites the vertical and the horizontal, the column and the beam. Despite the obvious architectural implications, the title suggests an interpretation that embraces the elements of earth, water, fire, and air, as proposed by the philosophy of nature in antiquity. In addition, it indicates Mardenís desire to transform a painted composition into more than the sum of its parts.
 
In the fall of 1978, Marden was commissioned to design new windows for the choir of the Basel Cathedral. This project, on which he worked until 1985, was never executed, but it confronted him with formal problems that ultimately led to a relaxation of the stringent canon of his painting. This change is documented, for instance, in Athenaís Notebook, 1979-1981. In a series of 30 drawings, the "indisputability of the plane" (Marden) is called into question and, for the first time, diagonals come into play. Similarly, diagonal, vertical, and horizontal lines crisscross and geometrically subdivide the five panels of the frieze-like Second Window Painting, 1983. In conjunction with a reasoned play of color and elements, the composition acquires a perspectival focus and a new sense of space.
 
In the mid-1980's, Brice Marden traveled to Thailand. Under the influence of Far Eastern calligraphy, the art of the brush stroke and poetry, Brice Marden turned away from Minimalism toward gestural abstraction. Since 1984, the quality and act of drawing have acquired an even increasing significance. Untitled #1 (1986) is the first work in the Daros exhibition that testifies to a "drawn-painted-written" involvement with the art of the Far East. This approach has led to two highlights in Mardenís oeuvre: the Cold Mountain series, 1988-1991, and The Muses, 1991-1993.
 
Cold Mountain I (Path) shows parallels to the calligraphy of the Far East. The title pays tribute to the famous Chinese poet and hermit of the 7th century, Han Shan (Chinese for "cold mountain"), while the picture itself is laid out in the pattern of calligraphic writing. The signs, brushed in extremely diluted black on white canvas, are inscribed from top to bottom and right to left. Through intense reworking of the canvas, Marden gradually dissolved this strict structure. The signs in each column become a contiguous, linked assemblage; single lines flow into each other, take off on their own, or disappear under layers of paint until, finally, the written signs become pure image.
 
The nine daughters of Zeus, who delight the gods with their singing and dancing, are assembled in the monumental painting The Muses, 1991-1993. Here the clear structure of a disciplined calligraphy is transformed into a free choreography. The bodies are not figurative and do not describe an external reality; they are linear notations of dynamic movement, which does not render the Muses themselves but rather appears as living, dancing beings. If we accept the artist's invitation and join the dancers, we will soon be able to understand and appreciate Mardenís artistic approach. Like the Romantics, he senses the inter-est, the being-in-between, between reality and ideal, between form and freedom, between the reality of surface and the sensuality of depth. Like them, he does not want to cancel out opposites; he wants them to interact and fuse into one.


Brice Marden: Drawings and Paintings 1964-2002. Introduction by Eva Keller. Interview with Brice Marden by John Yau. Scalo, 2003. Get the book (in English and German) from Amazon.com or Amazon.de. Together with the biography on the Guggenheim Collection's website, the Daros exhibition catalogue is the source for the present article.
 

In The Power Of Painting. Eine Auswahl aus der Daros Collection. Scalo, 2000. This is a presentation of the Daros collection, including works by Brice Marden. Get the book/catalogue from Amazon.com or Amazon.de.


 
 

 

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