Trampoline Into Spirituality

Brice Marden, Grove IV, 1976. Oil and wax on canvas, two panels, 72 x 108 inches (182.9 x 274.3 cm) overall
Brice Marden Grove IV 1976

“Although Marden’s paintings are non-objective, he often draws upon specific people, places, or other works of art as sources. Inspired by the austere palette of the Spanish masters Goya and Zurbarán, his early paintings achieve a brooding gravity through subtle, low-key color combinations. D’après la Marquise de la Solana is a response to Goya’s portrait of the Marquise, which Marden saw in the Louvre. His translation of the 18th-century figure into the language of reductivist abstraction is a potent distillation of the color, light, and mood in Goya’s original. Delicately worked panels of olive-taupe, gray, and peach succinctly paraphrase the Marquise’s elusive expression and dainty poise amid a grand romantic landscape.
An unparalleled sensitivity to color as an expressive means is a defining characteristic of Marden’s art. The five paintings in the Grove Group series, begun in 1973, were inspired by an olive grove on the Greek Island of Hydra, where the artist has spent time. Marden, who sees art as a “trampoline into spirituality,” refers to these as “high-intensity paintings,” intending his use of light and color to elicit an emotional response from the viewer. Color associations are usually detectable only through Marden’s evocative titles; the two-toned composition of Grove IV is a response to the shimmering shift in color from the dark tops to lighter bottoms of the windblown leaves of olive trees.” [Brice Marden @ the Guggy]

Brice Marden Grove Group II 1972-73

“Yet, as the “Grove Group” paintings attest, Mr. Marden kept painting alive by pitting “what you see” — the indisputable facts of the medium — against a host of poetic intangibles. His seemingly flat monochrome fields were constantly flipping open, yielding suggestions of light and space and moody atmosphere. His narrow panels could be read as distillations of the human figure, or even Greek columns, when vertical, and as distant horizons of land or sea when horizontal. Visually, his resolute surfaces could have the softness and delicacy of skin, and references to other art, to people and to places continually drifted through his titles. As Robert Pincus-Witten points out in the Gagosian catalogue, the artist was at once an incurable romantic and a dedicated classicist.” [Roberta Smith on Brice Marden’s Grove Group Paintings]

Brice Marden Grove Group I 1972-73

“Marden’s involvement in a separation of surface and support—in the course of clarifying the terms in which they’re interdependent—seems at first incompatible with Johns’ articulation of the painting as thing. Barnett Newman once wrote that: “[It] is only the pure idea that has meaning. Everything else has everything else.” If Johns has engineered a demystification of conventionality in which Newman’s ”pure idea“ is replaced with the notion of the ”specific object,” Marden’s subsequent development of that object is in a sense highly ambivalent about what Johns has done. His work engages one in a complication of the object’s—and therefore, the institution’s—morphology that reopens it to the possibility of self- or internal-contradiction, which is communicated through a surface that both informs and erodes one’s sense of its support.” [Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe on Brice Marden]

Brice Marden - Grove Group III, 1973 american search
Brice Marden Grove Group III 1973

“As would be expected from the current perception of Minimalism, the privileging of formalist values over those of interpretation is capital, taken for granted. Diane Waldman, for example, noted in the catalogue of her early survey for the Guggenheim Museum (1975), that Marden’s work “is often stimulated by a postcard, a person, even a situation, but the finished product bears only a remote associative relation to its inspiration.” My emphasis means only to underscore the reductivist bias of the day, one that willfully marginalized the role of associative value or imaginative power as spurs to abstraction. The Grove GroupNotebook now provides a text of spirited resistance to this valorizing of form over what condescendingly used to be referred to as “literary content.” Clearly, reductive biases favoring pure form marginalize the primacy of associative values.” [Robert Pincus Whitten on Brice Marden’s Grove Group]

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