Brice Marden - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Brice Marden’s Untitled (#2A) from 1985 beautifully merges the artist’s Minimalist tendencies with gestural abstraction to create a work that straddles the line between the two styles. Marden’s output from the 1980s was impacted heavily by the use of perceived light, shadow and color to create a sense of abstract space, adding a more meaningful reading to his minimal compositions. Simultaneously, the present work reflects a key moment before Marden’s evolvement to a more gestural style of painting, one which would draw upon non-Western references to develop a new abstract style of artmaking.

    “Color is a way of arriving at light. The illusion of light is one of the things that a painter works with...without light there is no visible image.”
    —Brice Marden

    Marden's Window Studies


    Commissioned in 1978 to design a new set of stained-glass windows for the apse of the Basel Cathedral, Marden became fascinated with the interplays between light and color following this project. Using different variations of a jewel toned palette, as exemplified by the greenish blue hues in Untitled (#2A), the artist relies on subtle differences in tone to mimic light being filtered through a window. Using a spatula to smooth the oil paint onto the surface of the paper, each rectangle within the larger composition contains a multitude of shades of gray, green and black, reflecting the notion of luminosity. These variations illustrate Marden’s preoccupation with the effect of light on a surface to create a two-dimensional “space” that exists outside of reality. Aptly so, the Basel project was never realized. As such, Marden’s window paintings and drawings allude to a notion of ambiguity, allowing the viewer to craft their own interpretations of these other worldly spaces rather than depicting something specific.


    Brice Marden, Window Study II, 1983, on the Cover of Artforum International, vol. 22, no. 1, September 1983. Artwork: © 2023 Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Looking to the East


    Throughout the 1980s, Marden took trips to Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, and also attended the Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th-19th Century exhibition held at the Asia Society in New York in 1984. These experiences would prove to be impactful on his later work, particularly in his use of abstraction and his compositions’ connection to nature. Considering these non-Western influences, the present work incorporates movement and line in a way that is almost calligraphic, foreshadowing Marden’s later works that take these qualities a step further. The grid-like framework in the present work reflect Marden’s earliest minimal masterpieces, while the dripping paint which breaks the boundaries of those grids hints at a sense of fluidity which would be fully embraced in Marden’s highly gestural Cold Mountain series of the late 1980s. Further invoking the practices and ideologies of non-Western art and culture, Untitled (#2A) embraces simple methods and composition to anticipate the artist’s trademark, calligraphic style of painting, bridging the gap between Minimalism and abstraction. Created during a pivotal moment in Marden’s career, the present work comes to auction on the heels of the landmark 2022 exhibition, Brice Marden: Inner Space at the Kunstmuseum Basel, home to Marden’s never-realized 1978 commission, and a major exhibition of the artist’s drawings at the Menil Drawing Institute, Houston in 2020. Other examples of these masterworks can be found in the collections of Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland, the Harvard Art Museums, Boston, the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the Mondstudio Collection, Wiesbaden.


    The Artist Photographed in His Studio, 1984. Image: © Peter Bellamy, Arwork: © 2023 Brice Marden / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1985

    • Exhibited

      New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Brice Marden, October 5–26, 1985

    • 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.

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Untitled (#2A)

inscribed "#2A" on the reverse
oil and graphite on paper mounted on Masonite
30 x 23 in. (76.2 x 58.4 cm)
Executed in 1985.

This work will be included in the artist's forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné.

Full Cataloguing

$450,000 - 650,000 

Sold for $482,600

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023