NEW YORK.- Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings is an unprecedented gathering of the artist's work and the first overview of the entirety of his career, which spans more than 40 years. With 56 paintings and more than 50 drawings, the exhibition is organized chronologically, beginning with works from the 1960s and ending with two new monumental paintings exhibited for the first time. The gradual, deliberate evolution of the artist's work becomes evident throughout the exhibition, as does his constant exploration of light, color, and surface. The work of the first 20 years of his career, characterized by luminous monochrome panels that first won the artist acclaim, will now be seen in balance with the work of the last 20 years, including the Cold Mountain group, which solidified Marden's reputation as one of the most important abstract artists of his generation. Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings, on view at MoMA from October 29, 2006, to January 15, 2007, is organized by Gary Garrels, Senior Curator, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (February 23 to May 13, 2007), and with paintings only to the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany (June 12 to October 7, 2007).
"Marden's work is deeply influenced by the places he has lived and worked, the people in his life, the cultures in which he has immersed himself, not the least of them the art of the past, both ancient and recent," says Mr. Garrels. "From his sharp syntheses and distillations of his experiences, an art is made that in turn gives viewers an incisive means to reflect more deeply on their own perceptions, knowledge, and experience."
For the MoMA presentation, all 56 paintings, including three oil-on-marble works, will be on view in The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Gallery on the sixth floor, along with 8 drawings interspersed in key galleries. Drawing has often been Marden's method of working through problems before attempting a painting dealing with the same issues. The rest of the drawings in the exhibition will be on view in The Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries on the third floor. These drawings will be arranged into three groupings: the grid, the plane, and the gesture. Marden has said that drawing is "an intimate medium. . . . A painting is about refinement of image. And drawing isn't. Drawing is not refinement. I don't think drawing is less than painting. . . . I find that painting doesn't have the fluidity that drawing has. And that's always, to me, the battle, to get fluidity into the painting."
Brice Marden was born in 1938 in Bronxville, New York. Early in his childhood, Marden's best friend's father, a painter, encouraged Marden in his art studies, and in his early teens, Marden visited museums in New York City. As an undergraduate at Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Art (1958 to 1961), Marden had thorough and traditional training, including classes in drawing, printmaking, design, lettering, and the study of anatomy and perspective. While in school, Marden painted portraits and still lifes that reveal the influence of work by Paul Cézanne and the early work Henri Matisse. On his own, he visited galleries and museums in Boston and New York. At Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Edouard Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1867), which, coincidentally, can be seen on the third floor of MoMA beginning November 5 in the exhibition Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, was a particular favorite of Marden's because of Manet's use of color. After graduating from Boston University, he attended the Yale University School of Architecture and Design. At Yale, Marden stopped making figurative paintings and began to paint abstractions only, inspired by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. By the end of his first year at Yale, Marden began to organize paintings and drawings around a four-part grid, and the exhibition begins with examples of these works. By 1963, these grids had evolved into two flanking planes of gray.
In the fall of 1963, Marden moved to New York City. He found a job as a part-time guard at The Jewish Museum, where in the winter of 1964, the first retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns was presented. This exhibition provided an important stimulus for Marden. Marden traveled to Paris for the spring and summer of 1964. He would make charcoaland-graphite drawings in which the work's surface divides into an overall grid. He was exposed to the work of painter Jean Fautrier, and he became interested in the paintings of Alberto Giacometti for their space, gray palette, and linear strokes. Marden returned to New York City later that year and in his own paintings of this period the surfaces thicken and become more homogenous. Individual brushstrokes give way to a more uniform skin of paint achieved with a knife. He also started to make one-panel monochrome paintings, exemplified by Return 1 (196465), citing Giacometti as a direct influence of these works.
In 1966, Marden completed Wax I, his first painting made with a blend of oil paint, turpentine, and beeswax. This mixture reduces the oil's shine and increases the tactility of the surface. Marden kept the mixture on a hot plate, mixing it constantly and initially using a refrigerator door as a palette. Brushing on the hot mixture, he smoothed it with a spatula and a knife, building layers of the medium to create a dense surface that both absorbs and reflects light. Some of his one-panel monochromes, such as Nebraska (1966), incorporate an inch-wide strip at the bottom of the canvas below which he did not paint; instead he allowed drips from the surface above to accumulate there, pointing out the process used to make the painting and reminding viewers of the nature of the canvas as a physical object. Marden had his first solo exhibition at the Bykert Gallery in New York in November of 1966. The works included in the Bykert exhibition fully encapsulate the lessons and experience of the prior eight years. Some of those works can be seen in MoMA's retrospective, including Nebraska, The Dylan Painting (1966), and Nico (1966). "These paintings have a maturity and confidence as well as a sense of grandeur and ambition, without any hint of hesitancy or tentativeness," says Mr. Garrels. "These prodigious works stand as fundamental touchstones for the time. Marden was now fully launched as a painter to be reckoned with." Shortly after the Bykert Gallery exhibition, Marden created the two-panel painting For Helen (1967), which is dedicated to Helen Harrington, whom Marden married in 1968. In 1971, Marden and Helen visited Hydra, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The qualities of a place and its light strongly figure into Marden's work, and allusions to the Mediterranean landscape can be seen in Marden's work through the early 1980shis colors became brighter, surfaces became lusher, and canvases bigger and bolder. Both the myths of the Greek gods and of early Christianity made appearances in his works, as seen in Grove Addenda III (197374). Nature, the seasons, and sunlight all influenced such works as the painting The Seasons (1974-75) and the drawing Inside Outside (1977).
In 1972, he began the Grove Group series (197276), which conveys his impressions of Greek olive groves. Three of the five paintings in the series (Grove Group I [1972-73], Grove Group II , and Grove Group IV [1972/197677]) and eight of the Grove Group Drawings (Grove Group 15 , Grove Addenda II , Grove Addenda (Delphi), , and Grove Addenda III ) are included in the exhibition. The paintings are all six feet by nine feet and run from one to three panels.