Artspeak: Brice Marden

I want them to just be calm, non-intimidated; just to look at them, and if they have trouble looking at it they should just pick a line and follow it.

~Brice Marden

A couple of weeks ago, PBS aired artist Brice Marden on Charlie Rose to discuss a forty year retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If there are bigger names in the present cannon of established artists worldwide, it’s a short list. A very short list. And that list hasn’t changed significantly in the fifteen years since art became a large part of my life in one way, shape, or form.

Sure, one can attain a Fine Arts degree from a respected institution without studying Luciano Fontana, or being able to place the name or work of Maurizio Cattelan. But to graduate and be fluent in the modern realm of fine arts and not know the name and work of Brice Marden begs the question, “what Crayola academy did you attend?” And the follow-up question, “did they sell bait and tackle too?”

In a culture preoccupied with movie and music stars (most of whom weren’t yet born when Marden began his painting career), fashion, and the latest technology, a solo retrospective at MoMA is as good as it gets, and downplay the significance as Marden does, this one is long overdue.

The distinction of being labeled a master or the greatest living American painter is one Marden would just as soon defer to someone else if not prefer such terms irrelevant to the focus on growing and developing as an artist, even in the relatively narrow scope of attention he’s receiving. (December’s ARTnews hasn’t been delivered yet, but if he’s not mentioned anywhere in it I’m rescinding my subscription—no doubt such drastic action won’t be necessary.) Regardless, his sincerity and modesty are as apparent in person as they are in print.

Text interviews in the tried and true Q & A format are nothing new in learning about what people think, or have thought over the years. But oftentimes these discourses are conducted by experienced journalists in select fields who like to chew over the minutial fat, especially in art: color theory, light, space, content, the medium—it’s enough to make even me question the merits of articulating the terminology of why a painting or sculpture isn’t “successful” when a simple, “the artist has no talent” is usually more than sufficient. Though at present higher education prices, one might feel slighted by the more succinct explanation.

Fortunately, in the forum of public television, Marden’s interview caters to the interested and moderately sophisticated, not the critic or the historian. Most of the content covers his life and experience as a human being who loves his life, which happens to be engrossed in making art. We should all be so fortunate.

The interview can be viewed in its entirety HERE


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