In his book A Critical History of 20th Century Art, which was published serially in Artnet Magazine in 2006, art historian Donald Kuspit describes the strange allure of Brice Marden’s minimal paintings. “Denying painting’s evocative power—the power to create subjective illusions…—they destroy the dialectic of fresh surface and hallucinatory depth innate to [painting],” Kuspit writes. “The result is sacred paintings that have lost their mystery, the shells of temples of art the living inner god has abandoned. They are splendid constructions but no longer uncanny places haunted by the incomprehensible. However much we meditate on them, they give us nothing but their beauty—a perfect beauty, since it has lost its strangeness.”
Brice Marden is a role model for young artists both in the style of his paintings (characterized by critic Klaus Kertess as “a kind of offhand sublime”) and in the persona he cultivated as a young artist coming into his own amid the hard-edged New York art scene of the 1980s. He attended Boston University’s College of Fine Arts for his BFA and received his MFA from the Yale University School of Art in 1963. Three years later, he had his first solo show, at New York’s Bykert Gallery. He spent the next twenty years perfecting his romantic, minimal style, using giant cake spatulas to coat large, monochromatic canvases with a mixture of melted beeswax, oil paint, and oil. During this time he showed in solo and group exhibitions internationally, in cities as diverse as New York, Paris, Milan, Düsseldorf, Rome, Athens, Nuremberg, Amsterdam, and Los Angeles. In the late 1970s, Marden’s work took a turn for the transparent and gestural. While living in Thailand for several years, he developed a deep interest in Asian philosophy. He worked intimately with calligraphy, and the premise of freedom of gesture versus containment became central to his work.
Work from the entire span of Marden’s career, from his early, monochromatic works to his later, sensitively tangled, colored line paintings and energetic ink drawings, is in the collections of numerous museums. From 1991 to 1992, a major show of the latter, "Brice Marden: Cold Mountain", traveled from the Dia: Beacon in New York to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Kunstmuseum Bonn in Germany. A major retrospective of his work originated at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2006 and traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof.
- Rachel Lyon