Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
“Brice Marden: Painting on Marble”
Brice Marden. Untitled. 2011. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Brice Marden. Untitled. 2011. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Rather than the absolute drama of big sweeping statements, what Brice Marden offers with his 15 new paintings on marble is individuality, intimacy, familiarity, and desire. Desire primarily.

Currently on view at Matthew Marks Gallery (at 526 West 22nd Street) Marden’s paintings are his second attempt at exploring the physical world as presented to him on the Greek island of Hydra, where he spends half of his time. A New Yorker, Marden (1938-  ), studied at Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts (BFA 1961) and continued on to Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture for an additional two years of graduate studies. Permanently settled in New York City from 1963 forward, Marden belongs to what is known as the second generation of Abstract Expressionists mainly because of the artist’s experimentation against gestural techniques. Instead, clear devotion to the subtlety of color as well as the spatial and structural limits of the surface became a fixation for Marden and led him to the emotional intensity and formal simplicity of the Minimalist monochrome painting of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

It is in the 1970s that Marden’s visits to Greece began. The local aesthetic of light, color, and commanding vistas coupled with the appeal of the Greek language and myth found expression in the artist’s heroic pieces such as Thira (16 panels, 2.44×4.57 m, 1979-180). The trouble with heroism of any kind is that it is admired but not necessarily understood. Which is perhaps what ignited in Marden the desire to return to etching and line painting and to derive inspiration from Chinese calligraphy—all of which imply change of scale, medium, and technique. As these points of reference materialized in his work, Marden had completely broken away from his early monochromes of the previous decade.

From 1981 to 1987, Marden experimented with oil and graphite on marble, a direct reference to his chosen island of Hydra. The series of paintings that ensued, vibrant, geometric, and varied due to marble’s natural variations, was the painter’s playful response to his physical environment on the island. Twenty-five years later, Marden presents us with another fifteen of these marble marvels, each one a tender departure from any assigned duty to change the world. Far from monumentalizing the meaning of life or confronting the viewer with drama and intensity, Marden’s new paintings on marble are as individual as another human being. They are equally beautiful, deep, physical, tactile, and imperfect—but imperfections stir desire. Ironically, Marden’s painted pieces of stone bring us closer to our primordial desire for beauty than anything he produced before.

© Thomaï Serdari