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>> interview Thomas Willemeit/Graft
>> The Press on Phoebe Washburn and Brice Marden

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"The Mother of the Green Lawn"
The press on Phoebe Washburn's "Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow"

Grass is growing at the Deutsche Guggenheim: Phoebe Washburn has installed a spectacular plant factory in the Berlin exhibition hall. In a construction fashioned together from wooden slats, grass is planted and cultivated into small plots of sod. These are transported on a conveyor belt throughout the structure, supplied with light and water throughout. Finally, the pieces of lawn wind up on top of the wooden construction, where they dry out and gradually form a kind of thatched roof. The press unanimously praised Washburn's Regulated Fool's Milk Meadow, a monumental work somewhere between sculpture, installation, and architecture.

Art dedicates a six-page spread to the "passionate recycler," Madame publishes a long interview with the "new star in New York's hotly contested art world," the German/French cultural program Arte broadcasts a report on Phoebe Washburn. Seldom has an exhibition by an artist hardly known in Europe unleashed such response in the media. The Deutsche Guggenheim's invitation to the American artist made it possible for the first time to experience one of the gigantic installations by the "fantastic sculptor with vision" (Kultur Spiegel) in Berlin. The fact that after "great names of the establishment" such as Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, and James Rosenquist a "young artist from New York" is invited to realize a commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim is for Nicola Kuhn of Tagesspiegel "a truly new step." Washburn's "highly complex sculpture" is a "crazy, clever, and even beautiful work that resists an over-hasty interpretation."

Elke Buhr of the Frankfurter Rundschau also has praise for the curators of the Berlin exhibition hall, who gave a "young, relatively unknown artist … carte blanche" – a step that yielded "exceptional results." She appreciates the "fastidiousness and system as well as the formal reflection" in Washburn's work. A "thoroughly confident commentary by a young woman on all the heroic room-fillers of art history à la Jason Rhoades." Brigitte Werneburg of the Tageszeitung sees it in a similar light: "Phoebe Washburn is the rare case of an artist that confidently presents herself as a world builder – something we only know from the tough guys famous for making a big splash. Completely unabashed and sober, she occupies their age-old territory. For this audacity alone she deserves all our respect." In contrast with Tom Sachs' installation Nutsy's, another commissioned work for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Washburn's "excessive building passion possesses its own logic, one that doesn’t have to be forced through narrative, but corresponds to the piece in an absurd, yet systematic way." Werneburg's enthusiastic review ends with the statement: "Not only is Phoebe Washburn one of the rare artists to appear on the world stage with complete self-confidence; she embodies an even rarer flawless brilliance."

The interpretations of Phoebe Washburn's work proceed in different directions. Welf Grombacher of the Märkische Allgemeinen reads it as a "commentary on a climatic catastrophe. But also as a parable on meaningless itself." "In a world in which perfection, logic, and efficiency (…) are the absolute criteria of quality," Gesine Borcherdt from Monopol sees the work as a "Dadaist nonsense machine in the guise of slum architecture. Sure, Washburn's art is a criticism of consumption. But it's articulated with wit instead of an admonishing finger." For Zitty, the artist is concerned with "questions of sustainability, labor, and the industrialization of natural processes," while Art sees the work as a "commentary on major industry with its absurd mass production" and the Leipziger Rundschau speaks of a "commentary-turned-sculpture on the consumerist and throwaway behavior of contemporary civilization." And for Eva Karcher of Vogue, Washburn has succeeded in making "an environment as visionary as it is quixotic, a cross between mass production and custom-made." "Washburn's fragile and vital organisms become monuments of a utopia of explosive energy: faults turn into strengths, self-sustaining microcosms and the macrocosm Earth mutually nourish themselves in endless recycling processes."

"Life's Lines"
The press on the Brice Marden show at Hamburger Bahnhof

He is "one of the quiet ones in the booming event culture: Brice Marden, the perpetual insider's tip among the American abstract artists," writes the Rheinische Merkur. "An 'artist's artist,' particularly admired by people in the field," according to the Kunstzeitung. The major retrospective at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, makes it possible for the first time in Europe to see Brice Marden's work in its full scope. Andrea Hilgenstock of the Kunstzeitung is skeptical about the possible public resonance regarding the "greatest abstract artist of America." Marden once termed his paintings "resonance bodies for the mind." "Hamburger Bahnhof now counts on the mind's being engaged, but it's not really for the ordinary public." Yet Claudine Breschnev of Berlin Art Info raves about "divine Brice Marden" and the "timeless beauty" of his paintings. "These paintings resist the political, fashionable, fast-lived, all of which seem entirely banal next to them." "The timeless beauty expressed here is sorely missed in painting's recent market-generated highs. It's no wonder, because a restful quietude, an immense inner independence, and spiritual freedom are required to create beauty this concentrated and fragile."

Daniel Völzke of Tagesspiegel advises visitors to the exhibition: "The best thing is to put aside everything you know about painting. Of course it's about light. About color, surface, and format. (…) These paintings are about painting itself. But they're also about an attempt to forget precisely that." In Hamburger Bahnhof, one can "follow the (…) path from a reflection upon painting's possibilities to a free and poetic expression. (…) The chronological order allows visitors to trace developments, points of turnaround, strokes of liberation." The most recent paintings in the last room seem like "a final triumph of color and form." Heinrich Wefing of the Frankfurter Allgemeine speaks of a "fabulous retrospective (…) that shows a painter of amazing independence and quiet magnitude. (…) His austere panels cannot be consumed in passing." They are "meditations on the nature of color or, to put it with less pathos, attempts to express the essence of painting." To his mind, the "radical break" between Marden's early monochrome panels and the later webs of line seems "far less severe than it might seem to fleeting eyes. The new works also live from their background, derive their power from the fields of color their colorful lines sweep over. (…) Nowhere does this become more apparent than in the monumental compositions of six canvases that form the climax of the Berlin exhibition. It's a reconciliation of surface and gesture. A triumph."

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