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HomeFashionThe Art World Remembers the Visionary Brice Marden

The Art World Remembers the Visionary Brice Marden

In a story from the July 1989 issue of Vogue titled Making His Mark, the poet and critic John Yau wrote: “If Lou Reed is the songwriter who best sums up the harsh and disturbing contradictions of living in New York City, then Brice Marden is the New York painter who best embodies the increasingly embattled notion that making art is a high-minded practice.”  

Marden died on Thursday at his home in Duchess County, New York, at the age of 84. His second wife, Helen, an artist in her own right, identified the cause of death as cancer.

Marden first attracted attention from the art world in the 1960s, when he persisted in embracing painting—then deemed irrelevant by champions of Pop and conceptual art and minimalist sculpture—as something endlessly and elegantly expressive. In Yau’s words, Marden’s work—which took cues from minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and color-field painting over the years—made abstraction “capable of declaring personal statements and particular passions.”

Born Nicholas Brice Marden Jr. on October 15, 1938, Marden was switched on to art early, following his enthusiasm from Briarcliff Manor, New York, where he grew up, to Florida Southern College and then to Boston University (as a transfer student), receiving his BFA there in 1961. But it was at the Yale University School of Art that he found his footing in abstraction, abandoning the self-portraits and still lifes that he’d made as an undergraduate and earning his MFA in 1963. From there, Marden moved to New York, where he variously worked at a silkscreen printing shop, as a guard at the Jewish Museum, and as a studio assistant to Robert Rauschenberg before his own practice began in earnest.

Marden’s first solo exhibition, shown at New York’s now defunct Bykert Gallery in 1966, reveled in generous applications of pure, dripping color, his canvases’ distinctive tactility derived from a mixture of oil paint and liquefied beeswax. (Seeing, at the Jewish Museum, how Jasper Johns introduced texture to his paintings’ surfaces had partly informed this approach.) Despite their muted tones, Marden vigorously resisted the idea that his work lacked emotion. “Each layer was a color, was a feeling, a feeling that related to the feeling, the color, the layer beneath it. A concentration of feelings in layers,” he explained in 1988.



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