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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

Free Painting 2

Free Painting 2
signed and dated 'B. Marden 2017' (on the reverse of the first panel)
oil and graphite on canvas, in six parts
each: 24 x 18 in. (61 x 46 cm.)
overall: 24 x 108 in. (61 x 274.5 cm.)
Executed in 2017.
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, acquired directly from the artist
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Brice Marden, December 2017-January 2018.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Exhibition R93, June 2018.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Ich weiss nicht, wer der Künstler ist, ich kenne nur seinen Preis (frei nach René Pollesch), July-September 2018.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, From Warhol to Twombly to Marden and Back Again, September-December 2018.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, From Warhol to Twombly to Marden and Back Again (Part 2), January-April, 2019.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Beauty Attracts Beauty, December 2019-January 2020.
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Brice Marden, September 2020-March 2021.
Further details
This work will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Painted in 2017, Brice Marden’s Free Painting 2, is a striking example of the artist’s ongoing interrogation of what makes a painting a painting. Consisting of six separate panels, each painted a different color, Free Painting 2 is unified by a single gold band which runs along the bottom of the composition. The origins of Marden’s planar painting date to the 1980s, when the artist moved away from his densely opaque monochromes in favor of a more gestural style of painting influenced by Chinese calligraphy. In the present work, Marden let his pigments seep onto the gilded support, expressive, demonstrative drips which move beyond their pictorial constraints. Although known for an austere purity, Free Painting 2 suggests an alternative understanding of Marden’s work: even the title points to a lack of inhibition. Indeed, when asked why he paints, Marden answered, “I paint because it’s my work. And I paint because I believe it’s the best way that I can pass my time as a human being. I paint for myself. I paint for my wife. And I paint for anybody who’s willing to look at it. Really at heart for anybody who wants to see it…It’s hard to look at paintings. It’s really difficult, a very strenuous kind of activity but very, very rewarding. I mean like it’s strenuous to listen to a great piece of music. Very complicated. You have to think a lot. You have to be able to bring all sorts of things together in your mind, your imagination, in your whole body. Really get off on it. It’s a very high experience. It’s something very deep and felt” (B. Marden quoted in G. Garrells, “Beholding Light and Experience: The Art of Brice Marden,” in G. Garrells, Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2006, p. 17).

After studying at Boston University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts, an education he has since described as quite conservative, and the Yale School of Art, Marden moved to New York City, where he became a security guard at the Jewish Museum. The start of his work there coincided with a Jasper John’s retrospective. Although already invested in painting, Johns changed Marden’s thinking and work: “He added another dimension to what is reality in painting,” recounted Marden. “Is a flag real?” (B. Marden quoted in C. Vogel, “Brice Marden, Still True to His Vision,” New York Times, 19 March 2019, Three years later, Marden became Robert Rauschenberg’s studio assistant, finding himself in the heart of the 1960s’ art world, in awe of artists like Donald Judd. He began to make monochromes using a kitchen spatula, and vestiges of this flatness can be seen in the chromatic planes and modular organization of Free Painting 2. While such compositions formally evoke works by Barnett Newman, in fact their foundations reside in the work of Mark Rothko. In 1972, Marden traveled to Houston, Texas, where he visited the Rothko Chapel. Inspired by what he saw, Marden began joining panels together to create composite entities through which he could explore color’s interaction without compromising its individuality. Indeed, it wasn’t Rothko’s chromatic vibrations that Marden wanted to recover, but rather the resonances between his colors. “By limiting each color he employed to one canvas, Marden sought to avoid the overlaps of figure-ground relationship that might compromise the identity and space of that particular color,” explained curator Klaus Kertess, one of the first to exhibit Marden’s work. “The color becomes totally identified with the plane of its individual support and the physicality of its paintedness. The color of each plane makes its own light and space, at once independent of and dependent upon its other planar partners. The painting is resolved and dissolved in the dynamics of a shifting symbiosis of planar identities” (K. Kertess, Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 23).

Even as he eschewed the phenomenological qualities of Rothko’s paintings, Marden was drawn to the artist’s ability to make color both abstract and profoundly emotional. Whereas Minimalists such as Judd denied any spiritual content, Marden turned towards it: The rectangle, the plane, the structure, the picture are but sounding boards for a spirit,” he has said. “The paintings are made in a highly subjective state within Spartan limitations. Within these strict confines, confines which I have painted myself into and intend to explore with no regrets, I try to give the viewer something to which he will react subjectively. I believe these are highly emotional paintings not to be admired for any technical or intellectual reason but to be felt” (B. Marden, “Statements, Notes, and Interviews (1963-81),” in Brice Marden: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1975-80, p. 54). Although lacking in figurative content, works such as Free Painting 2 nevertheless contain narratives. They reflect Marden’s desire to establish a dialogue between paint, artist, and support, and under his hand, his compositions share their stories.

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