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Number 1

Number 1
signed 'MARDEN' (lower right); signed again, titled and dated 'Number 1 B. Marden 1962' (on a card affixed to the reverse)
oil and beeswax on paper mounted on canvas
18 x 22 1/2 in. (45.7 x 57.2 cm.)
Executed in 1962
The artist.
Matthew Marks Gallery (by 2010).
Private collection, New York.
Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2012.
Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 48, fig. 15 (illustrated in color).
Swarthmore, Wilcox Gallery, Swarthmore College, Brice Marden, December 1963-January 1964.
New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Sublime Convergence: Gothic to the Abstract, April-June 2007, no. 14 (illustrated in color).
New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Brice Marden Paintings 1961-1964, October 2010-January 2011.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
This work will be included the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

A pivotal figure who has grappled with the boundary between emotion and conceptual rigor throughout his career, Brice Marden’s expansive oeuvre has inspired generations of artists since he began in the 1960s. An extraordinary work by the then-nascent artist, Number 1 sets the stage for decades of painterly investigation. Interested in the expression of time and process as well as a break from the machismo of Abstract Expressionism, Marden pushed for a deeper exploration of how seemingly simple fields of color or gestural marks can convey a greater human experience. Marden has noted, “In my case, and Rothko’s, with the scratches and scrapes and the colors coming through from below, it might look like a monochromatic surface, but it really never is. There are real evidences of drawing. I remember being very conscious of how you spread the paint on the surface of a canvas, of how it got to the edge and how it went around the corners. How do you draw your way vertically and horizontally around a corner? The issue of how you broach the outer edge of the painting was a big one for Rothko too” (quoted in S. Grant, “Landscapes of the Mind," Tate Etc., Issue 14, Autumn 2008). The very intricacies of creating a painting and how that relates to the human experience of art became central to Marden’s practice as he worked throughout the twentieth century and now into the twenty-first. Infusing each canvas with a depth of meaning and visible strata that are indicative of his careful process, the painter asks for quiet contemplation rather than a brash, explosive spectacle.
Executed in 1962, while Marden was still a graduate student, Number 1 precedes the artist’s move to New York by one year, but serves as a harbinger of the carefully considered style that would come to define his groundbreaking career. Divided into a grid of four rectangular areas, the work is painted with beeswax and oil on panel. Encaustic, the ancient method of suspending pigment in wax, evolved into Marden’s signature medium as the years progressed, so this early confluence of two media hints at a young artist’s experimentation with traditional modes. The upper right and lower left sections are painted a darker gray while the upper left is rendered in a light slate. The remaining area is more mottled, its surface glowing a pale blue reminiscent of moonlight trickling through a dusty window. Within each of the more solid sections, various lines and brushstrokes in myriad colors are visible. Drips of pewter on the brown-black planes contrast with dark vertical scratches and wispy areas that float over the surface. A discrete line divides the upper sections in half, its sharp edges serving as a foil to the swirl of mark-making on either side. Notably, Marden has remarked that "the rectangle, the plane, the structure, the picture are but sounding boards for a spirit" (quoted in D. Anfam, "Brice Marden," Artforum, January 2007, pp. 242-243). This way of thinking diverges from the more procedural efforts of Minimalists like Donald Judd and instead finds kinship in the deep reverie of Mark Rothko and other abstractionists interested in the capture of emotion in the painted surfaces. In Number 1, Marden’s grid serves as a lattice upon which the artist is able to explore, investigate, and lay bare the human introspection inherent to the act of painting.
After studying at Boston University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts from 1958-1961, Marden began graduate work at Yale University. It was there that he started to coalesce his interest in art historical modes with minimal abstractions in various forms. Rather than focus on a cold, analytical mode like some of the Minimalists working at the same time, Marden used parameters to support an exploration of emotive painting. As he wrote in his Master’s thesis in 1963, “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” (Unpublished Master of Fine Arts Thesis, Yale University, School of Art and Architecture, New Haven, 1963, pp. 3-4, cited in L. A. Svendsen, Brice Marden, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, 1975, p. 10). Seizing upon the idea of pre-conceived structures but using them as a catalyst for painterly exuberance instead of a treatise on figure-ground relationships, Marden created a personal amalgam that tied the prevailing artistic discourses together while not settling neatly in either one. In doing so, works like Number 1 become pivotal in the conversation surrounding mid-century Modernism and the interstitial space between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.

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