Many followers of contemporary abstract painting have been looking forward eagerly to Brice Mardens retrospective that opened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on Oct. 29—though Marden himself wasn’t originally so enthusiastic.
A retrospective is a difficult and terrifying thing for an artist,” says the show’s curator, Gary Garrells, of the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. “Brice resisted the idea of a retrospective. It took him a long time for him to feel that this was the right time”
Garrells himself is convinced that the timing was perfect. “Brice’s work can be bracketed into two essential periods,” he explains. “The first period”—when Marden was the maker of flat minimalist color panels—“from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. And now: the mid-eighties up to the current moment”—during which time Marden has evolved a very different, calligraphic, gestural style.
Each period is about 20 years in length,” Garrells continues. “So it seemed to me that this was the right time to go back and look at the work overall, because you can see those two balanced bodies of work. You can see these two grand arcs in his career, which are quite symmetrical.”
Garrells is convinced that the retrospective will reveal the real quality of Marden’s work. “Brice has sustained his work for more than 40 years. It’s very easy for an artist to have a career for five years, work through an idea and then stall. There are very few artists who can sustain this level of invention, this level of intensity, this level of commitment decade after decade after decade, but Brice is one of those artists.”
After some time, Marden became an enthusiastic collaborator in the retrospective project. “He was eventually ready to look back, to reassess his work himself. But the other question for him”—and here Garrells touches on why Marden might have originally been reluctant—“is what will the next step be.”