In what seems to be a panorama on the possibilities of light, Brice Marden’s newest exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings,” takes visitors on a journey which illustrates the 40-year career of one of America’s most prominent abstract painters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Featured in the exhibition are two of Marden’s newest pieces, large-scale oil on canvas works entitled “The Propitious Garden of Plane Image.” The experimentation of these works and of Marden’s entire body of work is best summed up by the artist’s continual perplexity when explaining his two newest pieces: “I’m still trying to figure them out myself,” Marden said.
The exhibition effectively details Marden’s artistic progression, as the pieces displayed throughout the exhibition are placed in chronological order, beginning with Marden’s earliest works as a young abstract painter studying at Yale University and closing with his latest work, the largest, brightest, and perhaps most ambitious of his career.
While the growth and change of Marden’s artistic sensibility is obvious through the exhibition-through his varying uses of mediums, which include oil and ink, linen and marble and his evolving sense of contrast between panels and between lines on a plane-the impression this retrospective illustrates is consistency. Marden, from his early works in the 1960s to his contemporary pieces, portrays a persistent interest in creating art that exists within the plane of reality and independent of “illusion”-art that exists independently from any representation into the “real.”
Gary Garrels, chief curator of drawings at the MoMA, explains in “Beholding Light and Experience: The Art of Brice Marden,” that Marden admits, “I seem to worry about realism. Art as a real thing. There can be, for me, all sorts of illusionism but the painting must rise above the illusions created and be able to stand as a real thing or solid fact. The best paintings do this.”
Marden’s body of work seems primarily concerned with color, contrast, and the “synthesis of the plane and the image,” as is described by Garrels. For Marden, it seems that art does not so much imitate life as it is part of life, of reality.
This is all to say that Marden’s work, much like anything on a real, independent plane, exhumes experimentation and possibility through the reflection of light. The work displayed in this latest exhibition displays Marden’s abilities as a painter and his paintings’ abilities to interact with their audience.
By simply placing one solid color next to another, which at times creates loud contrast and at others more subtle difference, Marden reveals the use of light as that which allows us vision. It is through these differences in color that viewers may come to learn about Marden’s vision and their own.