Brice Marsden, Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), detail, 1989-91, Oil on linen, 274.3 x 365.8cm, San Francisco Museum of Art. Purchased, through a gift of Phyllis Wattis, © 2006 Brice Marsden/Artists Rights Society, (ARS), New York.

Brice Marsden Retrospective from the Early 1960s to the Present

Brice Marsden, For Pearl, 1970, Öl und Bienenwachs auf Leinwand, dreiteilig, 243,8 x 249,6 cm, Private Collection, © 2006 Brice Marsden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Brice Marsden, 6 Red Rock I, 2000-2002, Oil on linen, 271.8 x 190.5 cm, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, Phoenix, Maryland, © 2006 Brice Marsden/Artists Rights Society, (ARS), New York.

Brice Marsden in his Studio, Photograph by Mirabelle Marsden.


Hamburger Bahnhof
Invalidenstraße 50/51
+ 49-0-30-3978-3412
Brice Marsden Retrospective
June 12-October 7, 2007

During the course of his career, Brice Marsden (born 1938) has experimented with a variety of materials. He is especially well-known for his fragile wax pictures from the 1960s, painted in a mixture of oil, terpentine and beeswax which lend the surfaces a peculiar, almost tactile appearance (Nebraska, 1966). Gary Garrels, Senior Curator at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, has curated the show in close collaboration with the artist. Marsden’s work of the 1960s and 1970s, characterized by luminous monochrome panels, can be seen next to his work of the past twenty years. Included are the pictures of the Cold Mountain series (Cold Mountain 2, Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989-91) which established the artist’s acclaim as one of the most important abstract painters of his generation. The exhibition further illustrates how deeply Brice Marsden is influenced by the places where he lives and works, by his social connections and cultural encounters. His art calls out to us, encouraging us to question human perception, our own knowledge and individual experiences.

The Hamburger Bahnhof — Museum für Gegenwart — Berlin is the only venue in Europe showing this comprehensive retrospective of the American artist Brice Marsden, which has previously been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Marsden is counted among the most important American artists working in an abstract mode in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

More than 60 works, mainly paintings and some drawings, offer an overview of Marsden’s work from the early 1960s to the present. The retrospective traces the evolution of the artist, one of the most important exponents of abstract art in the United states, in works spanning more than 40 years of his career. For the first time, Marsden’s constant exploration of constellations of light, colour, and surface can be appreciated to its full extent.

Marsden (born October 15, 1938), American, is generally described as a Minimalist artist, although his work defies specific categorization.

He was born in Bronxville, New York and grew up in nearby Briarcliff Manor. He attended Florida Southern College, Lakeland (1957 to 1958) and received his BFA at Boston University, School of Fine and Applied Arts (1961). He earned his MFA at Yale University School of Art and Architecture (1963) where he studied with Esteban Vicente, Alex Katz, Jon Schueler, Jack Tworkov, Reginald Pollack, Philip Pearlstein, and Gabor Peterdi. Among his fellow students were Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, and Robert Mangold.

It was at Yale that Marsden developed the formal strategies that would characterize his drawings and paintings of the following decades: a preoccupation with rectangular formats and the repeated use of a muted, extremely individualized palette. In his early work from the 1960s and into the 1970s, he used simplified means, typically monochrome canvases either alone or in series of panels (diptychs or triptychs), to achieve what he considered to be highly emotional and subjective representations. These include such works as The Dylan Painting, 1966; 1986 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art); Fave, 1968-69 (Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin); and Lethykos (for Tonto), 1976 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York).

Marsden moved to New York in 1963 where he came into contact with the work of Jasper Johns, an artist who he studied in depth while employed as a guard at the Jewish Museum, New York during Johns's 1964 retrospective held there. The following summer Marsden traveled to Paris where he began to make compressed charcoal and graphite grid-patterned drawings. Marsden's graphic works have always constituted an important corollary to his paintings, and he would transfer ideas ignited by these early works into even his most recent paintings and drawings. It was also in Paris that he admired the work of Alberto Giacometti and Jean Fautrier, although masters such as Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velásquez, and Edouard Manet have also informed Marsden's artistic practice.

In 1966, at Dorothea Rockburne's suggestion, Marsden was hired by Robert Rauschenberg to work as his assistant. That same year he had his first solo show in New York at the Bykert Gallery, which exhibited the first of his classic oil and beeswax paintings. Marsden's paintings are often borne from a particular experience or in reaction to having spent time in a particular place. In 1971, he and his wife, Helen Harrington, visited the Greek island of Hydra where they have returned to every year since, and that has greatly affected his work (see, for instance, the five Grove Group paintings, 1972-1980; Souvenir de Grèce works on paper, 1974-1996).

In 1983, he and his family traveled to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, where he became fascinated by Asian culture, art, and landscape. Marsden has subsequently incorporated numerous elements from these traditions and made them key to his process (Shell Drawings, 1985-87). A visit in 1984 to an exhibition of Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th-19th Century inspired his interest in calligraphy, a predominant influence in his recent work, as seen in the acclaimed Cold Mountain series of paintings and works on paper (1989-1991). In 2000, Marsden embarked on the most ambitious paintings of his career, The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, two of which measure 24 feet long. He is considered to be one of the more important American painters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In fact, one critic recently described him as "the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades". (Peter Schjeldhal, The New Yorker, November 6, 2006)

Marsden has participated in hundreds of group exhibitions, and has also been the subject of numerous one-person shows and retrospectives, beginning with his 1975 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. From October 29, 2006 to January 15, 2007, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, presented "Brice Marsden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings", according to MoMA "an unprecedented gathering of his work, with more than fifty paintings and an equal number of drawings, organized chronologically, drawn from all phases of the artist's career". The show traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, February 23, 2007 to May 13, 2007; and then to Berlin at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, June 12 to October 7, 2007.

In 1988, Marsden became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; in 2000, Brown University awarded the artist an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.

His daughter, Mirabelle Marsden, was a proprietor of the now defunct Rivington Arms, an art gallery in New York. She is also an accomplished photographer.

Brice Marsden, Grove Group II, 1972-73, Öl und Bienenwachs auf Leinwand, zweiteilig, 183 x 274 cm, Private Collection, fractional gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, © 2006 Brice Marsden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Brice Marsden, Study for the Muses (Hydra Version), 1991-95/1997, Oil on linen, 210.8 x 342.9 cm, Private Collection, New York, © 2006 Brice Marsden/Artists Rights Society, (ARS), New York.