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My Painting comes from Nature:
A Conversation with Brice Marden

The Hamburger Bahnhof is currently devoting a major retrospective to Brice Marden. The show encompasses the most comprehensive selection of his work ever to be shown in Europe, covering the entire spectrum of his oeuvre, from his early minimalist works to his most recent series The Propitious Garden of Plane Image. On the occasion of the show, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, Brigitte Werneburg met the charismatic American star painter and had an animated discussion with him about light, numerology, and rock stars.

Brice Marden at the Hamburger Bahnhof
Photo: Achim Drucks

"I run into Bob Dylan occasionally, and he always asks me: 'And what are you up to? Still painting?' He has no idea what's become of me", laughs Brice Marden. And Marden certainly has a lot to laugh about. After all, he's one of the best-paid artists or our era. Four years ago, a version of his six-part Cold Mountain cycle (1988-91) raked in over 10 million dollars. The only other living artists who can garner such high sums are Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Lucian Freud, and perhaps Cy Twombly.

Brice Marden: Bear Print, 1997-98/2000
Collection Peter Morton, Los Angeles
©2006 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

That's what's become of Brice Marden, the young artist who in the early 1960s was married to Pauline Baez, Joan Baez ' sister; the painter who dedicated The Dylan Painting (1966/86) to his friend Bob; whose picture titles often alluded to pop music, if only because he had many musician friends. One monochrome work is called Nico (1966); the paintings For Otis (1967/68) and For Pearl (1970) are dedicated to Otis Redding and Janis Joplin; the black-gray-black picture Star (1972/74) is made more concrete in parentheses (for Patti Smith). And with his androgynous beauty and long mane of curls, Brice Marden looked back then like the epitome of a rock star.

Brice Marden: For Pearl, 1970
Private Collection
©2006 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bob Dylan might have noticed that he had become a star painter. Still, Dylan's reaction isn't that surprising. When he encounters Brice Marden (who is still attractive at 69), he meets a friend from the old days whose cool, relaxed appearance gives no indication that he is one of the most celebrated contemporary artists and a top seller on the art market.

Brice Marden
Photo: Sidney B. Felsen © 1999

A version of Cold Mountain is currently on display as part of the large Brice Marden retrospective in the Hamburger Bahnhof. After New York and San Francisco, Berlin is the only European city to host the show. For this reason, I sit across from the artist (who has come to the German capital for the opening) in Sarah Wiener's Gartencafe, with the Berlin-Spandau canal in the background. On the table is a Sony, which dutifully records our conversation. Later, however, the device will refuse to play back all of Marden's short, dry, yet extremely precise, and at times self-deprecating replies to my questions. Brice Marden does not hold monologues, he answers. He doesn't have a repertoire of prepared responses for the same old questions; he listens to your exact words. And so it is an immense pleasure to talk with him.

Brice Marden: Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989-91
San Francisco Museum of Art. Purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis
©2006 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Naturally, he talks about experiences he has had, tells stories, and discusses ideas that are important to him. For example, he relates an anecdote about the number six being a propitious number for him, the reason why his current large work The Propitious Garden of Plane Image consists of six panels. He says that he doesn't really know what the "propitious" means. He goes on to say that after he had told a numerologist at the opening of the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art "Jeffrey, I did this painting because you said six is my number", the numerologist replied, to Marden's great astonishment, "Your number isn't six, it's 15."

Brice Marden: The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Second Version
(Photographed unfinished in May 2006), 2000-2006
Collection the artist.
Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
©2006 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

So will his next project be a fifteen-part painting? He laughs. It becomes apparent that Brice Marden has no reservations about entertaining questions that must seem very far-fetched to him. Like my question about the connection between painting and the weather. Don't painting and weather both concern light? Don't we often define weather based on the prevailing light conditions? Did he ever think about relating his colors and their light to certain weather conditions? After all, he has painted certain landscapes, such as Nebraska (1966), and certain places, such as Towards Brindisi (1972)? Yes, he says, he always wanted to paint a picture called "Coming Spring", as well as an autumn picture. But he paints it too slowly, and before he's finished spring is over.

Brice Marden: China Painting, 1995-96
Private Collection
©2006 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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