None More Black: Brice Marden at Matthew Marks Gallery
Brice Marden imbues surfaces with a palpable sensuality. Photos only hint at the evidence displayed throughout Graphite Drawings, Marden's latest solo exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York and the first of its kind devoted solely to his significant early works on paper. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor
Brice Marden | Patent Leather Valentine,1968, Graphite, beeswax, and red pastel crayon on a trimmed sheet of Strathmore natural white paper, 16 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches. © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.
The works on view, primarily a combination of charcoal, graphite, and beeswax, coincide with Marden's relocation to New York in the early 1960's. His understanding and utilization of grid structure begins this installation, in two Untitled works from 1964-5: one a powdery compressed-charcoal and graphite array of squares, the other an almost impenetrably smoky mix of media on heavy paper. Marden explores light reflection and absorption with beeswax in Teddy's Drawing (whose surface is as fuzzy as a zoomed-in animal pelt) and the almost metallic Patent Leather Valentine, bearing a heavily incised grid under a dense sheen.
Brice Marden | Mosaic Study V, 1978, Graphite, beeswax, and oil on Arches 300lb Torchon (Rough) Natural White paper, 30 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches. © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.
In his 1980 interview with Robin White, Marden said “the illusion of light is one of the things that a painter works with, I mean, that's how you get an image. Without light there is no visible image.” By imprinting a grid like in Patent Leather Valentine, Marden forms an inherent glow across the compositional plane. In the second gallery, Mosaic Study IV and V (both 1978) both infuse oil into the graphite-and-beeswax retinue, the former featuring an intensely etched grid and the latter a slick, mottled surface contained on three sides by steely blue-gray paint. Mosaic V calls to mind the artist's sublime Grove Group series from earlier that decade, their featureless surfaces alive with vegetal luminescence. Marden accents light and darkness in an Untitled 1970 drawing, where a quadrilateral of otherwise unadulterated beeswax faces its mate, a silky expanse of beeswax-treated graphite. The translucent beeswax is imperfectly white, yet it retains — or plays with — the gallery lighting more actively than the buff Arches paper surrounding it.
Brice Marden | Annunciation Study III, 1978, Graphite and beeswax on Arches 300lb Torchon (Rough) Natural White wove paper, 22 1/4 x 29 5/8 inches. © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.
Some of these drawings appeared in concert with Marden's paintings at his 2006 Museum of Modern Art retrospective, but I admit readily to being one of those repeat visitors who powered through the drawings, favoring instead bold arrays of beguiling monochromes and the whiplike organic fervor in Marden's Cold Mountain series and later works. I should have paid more attention! Annunciation Study III recalls his grand Annunciation series from the late '70s — a succession of massive multipart canvases varying in width and hue — and it hints at those paintings' impact in its rubric-like variance of graphite and applied beeswax. And despite the vertical power of his Elements series from the early '80s, the highly graphic Elements drawing displayed here (I am nearly certain it was not part of MoMA's retrospective) retains its own compositional might. For those of you in my situation, or those seeing these drawings for the first time, use this exhibition as an advanced-credit course in light and density and revel in it.
Brice Marden | Elements, 1981, Graphite and beeswax on Arches 300lb Torchon (Rough) Natural White paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/2 inches. © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.
Brice Marden (born 1938) lives and works in New York. His work was the subject of a 2006 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin. In addition, he has had one-person exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Tate Gallery, London, among others. Graphite Drawings is on view at Matthew Marks Gallery through December 21.
Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, but he can usually be found in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the art season.