BRICE MARDEN (b. 1938)
BRICE MARDEN (b. 1938)
BRICE MARDEN (b. 1938)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
BRICE MARDEN (b. 1938)

For Otis (Back Series)

BRICE MARDEN (b. 1938)
For Otis (Back Series)
signed, titled and dated 'for Otis (Back Series) 1967-68 Brice Marden' (on the reverse)
oil and beeswax on canvas
69 x 45 in. (175.4 x 114.3 cm.)
Painted in 1967-1968.
Bykert Gallery, New York
Jerald Ordover, New York
Max Protetch, Washington, D.C.
Peder Bonnier, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
E. Wasserman, "Brice Marden: Bykert Gallery," Artforum, March 1968 (illustrated).
M. Hafif, "Beginning Again," Artforum, September 1978, p. 37 (illustrated).
K. Kertess, Brice Marden. Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 63 (illustrated).
Brice Marden. Chinese Work, exh. cat., Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, May-June 1997, p. 30.
J. Richardson, "Brice Marden's Abstract Heart," Vanity Fair, May 1999, p. 201.
E. Costello, Brice Marden, London and New York, 2013, p. 61, no. 44 (illustrated).
New York, Bykert Gallery, Brice Marden: Back Series, January 1968.
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Von Twombly bis Clemente. Ausgewählte Werke einer Privatsammlung, July-September 1985, no. 30 (illustrated).
Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Art Minimal II, December 1986-February 1987, p. 69 (illustrated).
Munich, Kunstverein München; Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Brice Marden. Work Books 1964-1995, July-November 1997.
Zurich, Daros Exhibitions, Brice Marden, June 2003-January 2004, no. 3 (illustrated).
London, Gagosian Gallery, Imageless Icons. Abstract Thoughts, February-March 2005, pp. 49 and 102 (illustrated).
Berlin, Museum für Gegenwart, Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings, June-October 2007, p. 159, no. 23 (illustrated).
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Michael Baptist AVP, Co-Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

With its highly sophisticated surface and commanding black facade, Brice Marden’s For Otis (Back Series) is a rare and exceptional painting from the artist’s celebrated cycle of monochromes, produced by mixing melted beeswax with oil paint and turpentine. Named for the legendary singer-songwriter Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash in December of 1967, For Otis is a life-sized reverential homage to one of Marden’s musical heroes. Along with paintings such as The Dylan Painting, 1966⁄86 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), For Pearl, 1970, (Glenstone) and Star (For Patti Smith), For Otis belongs to a group of works that that captures the spirit of legendary musicians, very few examples of which remain in private hands. “These prodigious works stand as fundamental touchstones for our time,” the curator Gary Garrels has written. “Marden was now fully launched as a painter to be reckoned with” (G. Garrels, Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2006, p. 16).

The rich, black and gray tones of For Otis (Back Series) are unique and almost impossible to describe, giving off variations of luminous, unnamable hues that change throughout the course of the day. Ranging in tone from dark black to subtle charcoal with hints of warm, rose undertones, For Otis is a sensuous, beautiful painting. Its surface remains alive with the soft scrapes and marks that result from Marden’s unique painterly process. Indeed, this rich, textural interplay is the result of countless, successive layers of the heated-up beeswax medium, which Marden slowly applied over several months. Using a cake-baker’s spatula, Marden smoothed over the warm pigment as it dried. In some areas, the slight texture of the canvas’ warp and weft can still be discerned. In this, a testament to his adoration of the legendary "King of Soul," Marden celebrates and revels in the profound visual appeal of the color black, joining with the great legion of painters as diverse as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Édouard Manet, Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, all of whom tackled the profound, enduring color.

Inspired by the burgeoning bohemian music scene of the bars and clubs of New York’s Greenwich Village, Marden began a series of homages that he dedicated to his cultural heroes in the mid-to-late 1960s. These include Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Nico (of the Velvet Underground), Patti Smith, and in the present work, Otis Redding. It was in early December of 1967, while Marden was preparing the seventh and final painting of the Back Series that he overheard the news announcement that Otis Redding had perished in a plane crash. “I had done paintings for people that had died,” Marden explained. “When Otis Redding died I was in the studio working on a painting and I just turned it into For Otis...I have this belief that painting can be a real living thing,” he said. (B. Marden, quoted in J. Hay, “An Interview with Brice Marden,” in J. Hay, Brice Marden: Chinese Work, exh. cat., Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 1999, p. 30).

Marden reserved such paintings for only those greatest paragons of musical talent that he deeply admired and respected, and For Otis stands as one of the most poignant of this select body of work. The poet, art critic and curator John Yau reflected upon this, in discussing For Otis in his conversation with the artist in 2003. He explained: “One thing the painting makes subtly evident is that we have listened to the songs of Otis Redding, and we have shared this experience, but each of us has different feelings about his music, different sets of associations and memories. In being unable to quite pin down the painting’s color with a name, your work reminds us that however public a figure like Otis Redding is, each of us has a deeply private and personal relationship to him through his music. There is, in your work, an understanding that they is a powerful, ongoing relationship, one that isn’t fixed or static, between the personal, and thus private, and the public, however it manifests itself in culture or civilization” (J. Yau, “An Interview with Brice Marden,” in Brice Marden, exh. cat., Daros Collection, Zurich, 2004, p. 47).

Painted during one of the most divisive periods in American history, For Otis also corresponds to Marden’s burgeoning interest in political activism, especially the power of folk music, the civil rights movement and the anti-war protests of the 1960s. As Eileen Costello writes in her monograph on the artist, “He titled the painting For Otis and gave it a rich, black surface suggestive of the African-American singer as well as his tragic death” (E. Costello, Brice Marden, New York (Phaidon), 2013, p. 56). This portrait, which took Marden many months to complete, is one of his most famous. Marden attempted to create “in spirit,” as he said, the fullest likeness of his subject, he explained that he wanted “to make a portrait, not a picture of a person. I hoped to embody a spirit,”(B. Marden, quoted in E. Costello, Ibid., p. 56).

“Paintings are physical,” the artist once explained. “So is the act of creating them. This physicality should be emphasized” (B. Marden, quoted in R. Shiff, “Force of Myself Looking,” in G. Garrels, op. cit., p. 34). Indeed, For Otis (Back Series) evokes a bodily presence due to its extreme height. Standing just shy of six feet tall, the painting belongs to a small group of seven large-scale vertical panels that Marden painted between 1967 and ‘68. The Back Series were each painted a single, monochromatic hue, and measured exactly 69 inches tall, the same height as Helen Harrington Marden, whom Marden would marry in 1968.

Despite their formal austerity, Marden’s early monochromes are not passionless; neither are they austere, Minimalist objects devoid of emotion or meaning. Instead, these paintings are alive with the talismanic presence of the artist’s hand. In For Otis, Marden leaves a thin strip of bare canvas along the lower edge. Here, drips of thinned-down pigment are allowed to seep in rivulets and thin streams over the empty canvas surface. The tension between the immense, monochromatic surface of the painting in contrast with the soft, wet drips results in a powerful set of contrasts as the eye oscillates between the two fields. Although Marden would do away with this painterly strip along the lower edge in his monochromes painted after 1968, it is within these subtle areas of pure pigment that Marden reminds us of the painting’s identity as a physical object. This lends the otherwise Minimalist monochrome painting a profound reverence for the craft of painting, not to mention Marden’s deep appreciation for the historical genre of oil painting going back to the great Spanish masters.

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