I envision a moment--perhaps two hundred years from now--when people, not institutions, get to decide what hangs on museum walls.
Brice Marden was floating around the Internet earlier today. I found a New Yorker article on Reddit Art, which I tweeted. And then a friend, in response, sent me the Charlie Rose interview with Brice Marden.
Who is Brice Marden?
He is an abstract expressionist painter who gained worldwide attention in 2006 because of the Brice Marden Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (New York).
The show traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in early 2007, and then to Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart . . .
The MoMA called the exhibition "an unprecedented gathering of [Marden's] work, with more than fifty paintings and an equal number of drawings, organized chronologically, drawn from all phases of the artist's career." (Wikipedia)
Brice Marden: Bear Print, 1997-98/2000
Sometimes I use Twitter to get a sampling of public opinion on a prominent artist or intellectual figure. Last week it was the Lacanian-Marxist political philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. This week it is Brice Marden.
I'm interested in what people think. I tweeted the New Yorker article to see what people think of Marden's work, and the merits of the article itself.
We already know what the Museum of Modern Art thinks of Brice Marden.
If for some reason the show does not make that clear to us, we can always read the 330 page hardcover book (published by the Museum of Modern Art) about Marden's importance to the art world, "Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective."
At the time of this publication and retrospective, Charlie Rose also thought Brice Marden was important. So he interviewed him.
And surely, forty years of painting must mean something!
A detail from "The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Third Version," 2000-2006
So what did people say on Twitter when I asked if they liked Brice Marden's paintings?
@TDeregowski love it, saw a big show at the whitechapel.
@LT78 brice bardon = snooze. sorry. (This comment was erased, probably b/c the author realized she spelled his name wrong)
@twicklicious Brice Marden, excellent marketeer, not so much "artist" though.. (personal opinion)
@ownnothing I've never liked Brice Marden's work. Flat, lifeless, doodles, color studies. Are these paintings for the ages?
Now let's look at what the New Yorker had to say in 2006:
Marden’s current retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art confirms him, at the age of sixty-eight, as the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades.Regardless of the merit of these aesthetic judgments, never has a writer been so accurately self-conscious of his own journalism.
The surface eludes them. Sombre color seems at once to engulf you, with a sort of oceanic tenderness, and infinitely to recede. This effect distills that of the furry-edged, drifting masses of ineffable color with which Rothko aimed, he said, to evoke a mood of “the single human figure, alone in a moment of utter immobility.”
His grays and grayed greens and blues recall the ungraspable nuances of Velázquez and, at times, the simmering ardors of Caspar David Friedrich. (Am I dropping too many names? There’s no helping it. Marden, an artist bred in museums, communes rather directly with all past painters whose temperaments correspond to his own.)
The Peter Schjeldahl article in the New Yorker drips with what the anonymous commenter (from my recent essay Art, Taste, Money) detested as art-speak, intellectual art babble, hyperbole, and so on . . .
We can almost picture the anonymous commenter, after reading the New Yorker, lifting up Peter Schjeldal by his shirt collar and shouting, "Just tell me what you think of the goddamn painting!"
The interview with Charlie Rose is also revealing.
Marden: There is a real responsibility of being an artist. I mean you’re not just doing this stuff to make pretty things for people to hang on their wall.
You know, there is some meaning to it. You are living in the culture and you are reflecting on the culture.
I mean they’re going to know more about this stuff in three hundred—I mean, this stuff is made to last . . . You look at Venetian painting and you have some idea about what’s going on—you don’t have to read about all the battles--
CR: Art is the permanence of a civilization.
Marden: Yeah, well, it’s a reflection of a culture.
Brice Marden: Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989-91
Terence Clarke, a blog critic, finds the trumpeting of Marden's work absurd. As for the meaning that everyone seems to be talking about, he writes:
In the case of Marden's work, Stella's dictum (what you see is what you see) is an accurate assessment. You theorize about its deeper meanings at the risk of describing the emperor's new clothes. There is little here of the great intentions that I've read about in descriptions, by many critics, of Marden's art. They may think such intentions are there. Maybe even Marden thinks they are. But they aren't.Clarke also has something to say about feeling.
Metaphor is what makes good art so riveting. It opens the soul to variegated depths, to an acknowledgment of emotions. To conflict. To soul-saving resolution. It stirs the heart's blood, surely one of the classic purposes of all art.And of these particular elements--emotions, conflict--he finds a definite dearth in Marden.
Brice Marden: For Pearl, 1970In another segment of the Charlie Rose interview:
Marden: I think there’s a lot of painters around doing it (abstract expressionism) . . .
CR: There’s a line that goes through Pollock and you and . . .
Marden: Yeah, but I don’t know who they are. I mean, I sort of know some of them. I mean, it’s still going but . . . it seems to me the big thing going on now is like non-abstract expressionism—
CR: It is?
Marden: Well, it has much more to do with the kind of literary, storytelling . . . as I said, it’s more literary, it tells little stories. Not little stories, but there’s a narrative, there’s a lot of narrative stuff going on . . .
CR: Does it influence you?
Marden: Ehhhh, maybe, I don’t know . . . I mean these things, these long paintings are sort of a narrative, but no, I don’t want to tell stories in my paintings. If I tell the story, I’d rather it be a symphony rather than like a book.
CR: With movements . . .
Marden: So you respond to it viscerally, rather than intellectually . . . You can look at it, you’re figuring it out, but at the same time, if you’re beginning to have some sort of jump in your stomach, then I think you’re sort of getting it.
I did in fact have a "jump in my stomach" tonight, but it was not looking at Marden's oeuvre, nor any individual painting.
The "jump" came from all of the voices around me, responding to Marden's work. All of the voices that contributed to this meaning of Brice Marden.
I'm interested in what people have to say. Not institutions. Not the MoMA. Not the New Yorker.
Meaning takes care of itself. The artist need not worry about meaning. If the art has integrity, originality, and yes, beauty, it will provoke meaning.