Brice Marden - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.


  • Conjuring ancient architecture and American modernism, mysticism and religion, the spiritual and material, Elements III is part of Brice Marden’s celebrated eponymous series created between 1981 and 1984. A pivotal component of the artist’s lauded post-and-lintel construction paintings, the Elements ushered in a new era of his career, defined by Marden’s growing sensitivity to the evocative power of color. Configured in a trabeated system, four individual panels of dark red, green, yellow, and blue are unified into a singular composition. Painted between 1983 and 1984, the present work was first exhibited at the artist’s important show at the Pace Gallery, New York, in 1984 and featured at the esteemed Carnegie International the following year. With the majority of Marden’s post-and-lintel works housed in major institutional collections and important private collections, Elements III comes to auction as a rare-to-market opportunity.


    The present work installed at Brice Marden: Recent Work, Pace Gallery, New York, 1984. Artwork: © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Advancing from the earlier vertical monochrome panels that had launched him to international acclaim in the early 1970s, the Elements mark one of Marden’s first forays into combining horizontal and vertical planes. The artist’s investigations with post-and-lintel constructions began with Thira, 1979, which embodied the classical Greek and Roman architecture Marden encountered during his global travels. In 1981, Marden ostensibly simplified the planular dynamic into a constricted composition for the Elements paintings, which “make more insistent and abrupt the shifts from post-and-lintel to T-shape cross.”i In the present work, the elongated architectonic composition produces a vibrant tension between contained surface and radiant color, exuding a physical energy that highlights its sculptural presence and reflecting Marden’s growing “attentiveness to the relation between density and luminosity.”ii

  • Post-and-Lintel Construction Paintings in Notable Collections

  • A Spiritual Awakening

    "The paintings are made in a highly subjective state within Spartan limitations….I believe these are highly emotional paintings not to be admired for any technical or intellectual reason but to be felt."
    —Brice Marden

    Barnett Newman, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV, 1969-1970. Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Image: bpk Bildagentur / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen / Jörg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    While the shift to an austere T-shape composition seemingly pushed his reductive formalism further into Minimalist territory, Marden increasingly developed a nuanced approach to color and interest in spirituality that imbued his work with a poetic sensibility and personal resonance. Recalling the pure color fields of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, the Elements series showcases Marden’s spiritual and mystical treatment of color. After becoming inspired by Newman’s late work at the artist’s 1971 MoMA retrospective, Marden visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, in 1972, which stimulated his desire to resonate the emotive power of color from purely painted panels. Although he had employed primary colors by the mid-1970s, the Elements represent Marden’s deep meditations on the meaningful associations that formalism could engender.

    "Basic color choices are originally dictated by a scheme which equates his expanded range of primaries—red, yellow, green and blue—with the natural elements: fire, air, earth, and water. These in turn are accorded the more mystical associations of, respectively, spirit, mind, body and soul."
    —Robert Storr, 1985

    [left] Brice Marden's Window Study II (For Basel Munster) on the cover of Artforum, September 1983. Artwork: © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Gerhard Richter, Kölner Domfenster (Cologne Cathedral Window), 2007. Cologne Cathedral, Germany, Artwork: © 2021 Gerhard Richter

    In 1978, Marden received a commission to design new stained-glass windows for the apse of the Basel Cathedral. This had a profound impact on his art and served as the basis for the Elements series. Though the project was terminated in 1985 and ultimately never materialized, it allowed Marden to explore new technical, formal, and affective investigations related to light and color that found articulation in his Elements. As expressed in the series title and the works’ symbolic colors, Marden embraced the elements of medieval alchemy, a subject that preoccupied him while he was developing his design for the cathedral windows. As Klaus Kertess explains, “It was through these states that the primordial emanation (Telesma) was thought to pass from the sun to transform the material opposites into a new unity of the immaterial. Here employing colors more symbolically than referentially, Marden sought a unity that like alchemy would dissolve and resolve the material into immanence.”iii


    The artist’s notes for Elements III, “Notes 1979-82/84,” reproduced in the 1984 Pace Gallery exhibition catalogue. Artwork: © Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    As Brenda Richardson has observed, Marden’s preparatory notes for Elements III reveal his fastidious considerations on matters of color: “orig black over ptd/with terre vert/earth ptg./landscapes…More red in the yellow/for the yellow in the/red.”iv The year Marden began his Elements series, he replaced his wax-based oil binder with terpineol—a thinner oil medium that dries flat to the surface—for its transparent capacity to present pure color unhindered by shine and reflective light. Departing from his previously dense, opaque surfaces, Marden drew color and surface into tighter alignment in the Elements paintings as the pure fields of brilliant color dominate the physical individuality of the planes.

    In his review of the 1984 Pace Gallery show, Robert Storr highlighted this effect of the exhibited works, noting that they “are infused with the glow of color that not merely applied as a structural marker slowly mixed, layered, and arrived at. The resulting resonance is indeed like that of the painters such as the Zubarán....With their post-and-lintel construction and intervals of alternately yielding and resisting surfaces and fields of color, these five paintings suggest portals and arcades—elemental architecture and the landscape visible beyond.”v


    i Klaus Kertess, Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 31.
    ii Robert Storr, “Brice Marden: Double Vision,” Art in America, March 1985, p. 122.
    iii Klaus Kertess, Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 31.
    iv Brenda Richardson, “Even a Stone Knows You,” Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, pp. 99-100.
    v Robert Storr, “Brice Marden: Double Vision,” Art in America, March 1985, pp. 119, 122.

    • Provenance

      The Pace Gallery, New York
      Douglas S. Cramer, Los Angeles
      Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Pace Gallery, Brice Marden: Recent Work, September 28 - October 27, 1984, no. 5, n.p. (illustrated; preparatory sketch for the present work illustrated, n.p.)
      Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1985 Carnegie International, November 9, 1985 – January 5, 1986, p. 187 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Robert Storr, “Brice Marden: Double Vision,” Art in America, March 1985, p. 122 (The Pace Gallery, New York, 1985 installation view illustrated, p. 125)

    • Artist Biography

      Brice Marden

      American • 1938 - N/A

      Born in Bronxville and working between New York City, Tivoli, New York, and Hydra, Greece, Brice Marden developed a unique style that departs from his Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist contemporaries. Drawing from his personal experiences and global travels, Marden’s works demonstrate a gestural and organic emotion channeled through the power of color. By the late 1960s, Marden received international recognition as the master of the monochrome panel and, in the late 1970s, began exploring the relationship between horizontal and vertical planes. His practice is deeply informed by his knowledge of classical architecture, world religion, ancient history, and spirituality. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998, Marden is represented in notable institutional collections including the Whitney Museum of Art, New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

      View More Works

Property of an Important American Collector

Ο ◆17

Elements III

signed and titled "ELEMENTS III B. Marden" on the reverse of the green panel; inscribed "EIII" on the reverse of the red, blue and yellow panels
oil on canvas, in 4 parts
84 x 36 1/4 in. (213.4 x 92.1 cm)
Painted in 1983-1984.

Full Cataloguing

$3,200,000 - 3,800,000 

Sold for $5,233,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021