New York

Brice Marden

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

So insistent in our life is fashion that many desire, even in painting, a new look for every new season. New Image Painting, New American Painting, NeoPrimitive Painting. . . . Despite it all, painting is still not designer clothing.

Next to such seemingly “radical” painters, BRICE MARDEN looks conservative. In an instructive way, he is. The revolutionary, it is commonly thought, would do away with tradition. Often, however, he conserves tradition, only seeing it in an original, unconventional way. An artist may also rediscover a basis of an art in such a way as to reinvent the art. Here, revolutionary meets conservative. They meet in Marden.

As in the “Annunciations” of two years ago, in his new work Marden reworks old forms in contemporary terms. Unlike painters who do three-panel paintings and call them “triptychs,” Marden works through such sources. The irony here is serious. Form, history, are understood as given, ineluctably—are as much burdens as gifts. They are not “quoted” away campily, á la post-modernism.

Thira is a painting in many panels: indeed, all the lines are panel lines. At first this seems like a waste of the edge-as-drawing. Why not articulate it against surface drawing? But it is clear: Marden intends the lines to be physical, as physical as architecture. The color, too, is as rhythmic as architecture. Obviously, Thira is inspired by classical architecture (there are three frames; the outer two contain panels capped like columns). But rather than being a painting of architectural imagery, it is an architectonics of painting. Thira, a Greek island: but Marden’s Thira is neither about the clear light of the Mediterranean, nor the ideality of Greek thought.

Helen’s Moroccan Painting is two panels, olive green above and clay red below. In front of the painting, one feels, not sees, landscape. Classically, landscape is an ideal construction for the eye. Moroccan Painting is, more, a physiognomy of landscape. Somehow it seems to mediate landscape and body and “stand in” for both.

Frieze is five panels in a row: white, black, clay, olive, rust. Warm and cool, color and non-color physically cross and integrate the viewer. Near the edges of each panel there are stray marks. From panel to panel they move, like episodes in an epic or figures in a frieze. The frieze is an old form of historical commemoration, a space for the representation of the hero—prince, king or emperor. In Marden’s works it is as if we still have such a structure, as if we still think in such terms, though the figure of the hero is long since dead and gone.

Hal Foster