0:00Text: Front Row Interview with Brice Marden Voiceover: From the likes of Jasper Johns,
0:01 Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, Brice Marden emerged as one of the stars of the
0:05 New York art scene of the early 1960s. Unlike many of his pop peers of the time, Marden
0:11 made his name with abstract works, in particular large, austere monochrome paintings. Five
0:16 decades on and those who made their art in derelict warehouses are now hung in national
0:21 galleries and collected by billionaires. Last night, Brice Marden delivered a lecture at
0:25 the Tate Modern, part of the Art in Embassies program organized by the American government.
0:31 This morning I met him at the official residence of the U.S. ambassador where Brice Mardens
0:36 hang alongside Warhols and Rothkos. He told me about the inspiration behind those early
0:40 monochrome paintings. Marden: The first monochromatic paintings
0:43 I made, I had just returned from Paris. And they were cleaning up Paris and I would spend
0:50 hours watching them re-stuccoing walls. Start at the top, work down to the bottom, there
0:56 would be this accumulation of splashes at the bottom. I came back to New York, I was
1:01 painting, I was trying to make grid paintings and they never quite were working so I would
1:08 paint out half of it and one night I just painted the whole thing out and I had a monochromatic
1:13 painting. And it’s related to the walls that I was watching them—I mean, you’d
1:19 see them working this, so you’d know that there was like this physical involvement,
1:24 and then you’re thinking, you know, is this valid? Is this a picture?
1:28 Interviewer: But you say there you were interested in the physicality, you were looking at these
1:32 men painting on a large scale and thinking back to that time when you emerged and those
1:38 kind of artists that you were working alongside in New York, the work of Jasper Johns and
1:43 Rauschenberg and Rothko and a lot of people, there was a lot of physical of physicality
1:52 to the painting that was happening at the time, wasn’t there?
1:55 Marden: Well yeah, but all of those guys, you weren’t working with them, they were
1:59 like the— Interviewer: No, but there was a shared aesthetic
2:03 (laughter) among all those very different painters, different artists.
2:05 Marden: There was a shared aesthetic, but you were trying to set up your own aesthetic.
2:09 And Jasper was a huge influence on my work, you know. I was a guard at the Jewish Museum,
2:15 I was guarding the Jasper Johns retrospective. I was in the room with the big white painting
2:21 all day long and with all his all these earlier works so I really knew the work. It was real.
2:29 I’m not considering it as pop art, it was realism. And I thought what I was making was
2:35 just as real but it didn’t represent anything. Interviewer: But let me take you back to being
2:39 a guard at the Jewish Museum and sitting in that room for hours on end with Jasper Johns
2:44 paintings— Marden: I had to stand (laughs) You didn’t
2:47 sit, you had to stand. Interviewer: Did you know him, did you get
2:50 to know him? Marden: He came in one day and he was cleaning
2:54 the white flag, started dusting it off. But you know you don’t just like walk up and
3:02 chat with Jasper. (laughs) You know? I mean, I was quite intimidated.
3:08 Interviewer: But you got to know because you were working for Robert Rauschenberg so was
3:13 he, again, very different artist, what did you learn from him as his studio assistant?
3:19 Marden: Well, Rauschenberg was just brilliant. I’d come in in the morning and make coffee,
3:24 you know, cleaning up after the dogs. Interviewer: You didn’t actually sit down
3:29 and make art together, you didn’t help him— Marden: I worked on one… my job basically
3:34 was to make it to have everything the way that he needed it to make stuff. An d he usually
3:42 worked at night and I worked during the day. But there is this thing that’s kind of a
3:46 tradition you know where you’re doing okay, you hire younger artists to work for you and
3:54 it’s just good for them to be around the stuff. It’s not that you’re teaching them
3:59 or anything, it’s not the apprentice system. Interviewer: Of course you then had success,
4:03 you had acclaim, you had your own shows, you made your mark and people associated you with
4:07 those big dramatic monochrome paintings. And then there was a very dramatic change in your
4:12 style and you had the cold mountains series of paintings which were more gestural, free
4:18 flowing, series of lines on canvas, again monumental in size. That was influenced by
4:26 Chinese calligraphy, then? Marden: Yeah, yeah. Because I’d been trying
4:30 to get more drawing into the painting. And it had to do with you’re making a monochromatic
4:35 panel and I was drawing very severe straight strokes with I use a big sort of pallet knife,
4:43 it was like a cooking spatula. It just wasn’t reading, and I wanted more drawing in the
4:48 painting. And the calligraphy was a way to do that and I just had to figure out how to
4:54 do it. And this was from the first show that I had with Mary after I went through that
5:02 change. Interviewer: Now you’re pointing to a painting
5:04 on the wall. We’re sitting in Winfield House, which is the American ambassador’s residence,
5:09 and we’re sitting here with Marjorie Susman who is the ambassador’s wife who curates
5:16 the art in this house and there are a lot of artists, American artists, great names,
5:24 and your painting, the one that you’re pointing to, is hanging here in the state dining room.
5:29 So this is an early example of the cold mountain series. First of all, could you have imagined
5:34 when you were first painting, scratching around in lofts in New York, several decades ago,
5:39 that your painting would be hanging here in the American ambassador’s residence?
5:43 Marden: No, not really (laughs). Well, you have these sort of things, well, what could
5:50 happen, but you know, you don’t plan on it (laughs).
5:54 Interviewer: But proud that it is here? Marden: Oh this is great! Proud, you can’t
5:59 get proud, it’s dangerous— Interviewer: Pride is dangerous.
6:03 Marden: But no, I never would have expected this and I’m very happy that it’s here.
6:08 Interviewer: This is Marjorie Susman. This is one of your favorite paintings, isn’t
6:13 it, it hangs— Susman: It’s one of my favorite paintings
6:15 from one of my favorite artists, so I am proud that it is hanging here. We put this collection,
6:22 the whole collection together with the Art in Embassy program of the State Department,
6:28 with pressure on some of my special friends to help and one, a woman named Agnes Gund,
6:37 said come to my house and take whatever you want, and I took four pieces and the first
6:41 thing I grabbed was this Brice Marden painting. And it was probably bold to put it here, I
6:50 think one of the things I worried most about was what would Brice Marden think if he saw
6:57 his painting hanging in this room with all this gilt paint and crystal chandeliers—
7:03 Interviewer: Well we should just set the scene because there is exactly the gilt lining everywhere.
7:07 A beautiful long, what is this a mahogany table?
7:10 Susman: Right. Interviewer: Very long, with about eight chairs
7:13 at either side, carpeted. And the first thing to say about the painting is it does chime
7:18 with the color scheme in here because predominantly there are muted greens some grays and some
7:24 red lines within those geometric predominantly triangles that Brice Marden has created on
7:31 there. But that’s really the only thing that chimes with the style, isn’t it?
7:35 Susman: Well, actually, it had nothing to do with the color, I guess these gray blue
7:39 walls they were here and there was no changing them. But I think the great moment for me
7:46 was when we hosted a return state dinner, a state dinner for the Queen, Her Majesty
7:52 the Queen, when President Obama and Mrs. Obama were here visiting. They were all dining under
8:00 this magnificent Brice Marden painting. And it was just an incredible moment for me.
8:06 Interviewer: We should ask Brice what he thinks about this, because you weren’t here to
8:09 share this moment were you, your painting was, you were represented by your work. Did
8:15 you know about that, have you heard that story? Marden: I heard, Matthew told me, my dealer
8:21 told me about it. You know, this kind of political power, this financial power, because also
8:26 art has power. Quite often you get the financial system, the political system, really tries
8:34 to negate the power of art. And it’s really great to have a painting in some sort of position
8:41 where it’s allowed to try to do its work. Interviewer: So sitting in this room you’ve
8:46 had presidents, prime ministers, heads of state—
8:48 Marden: Yeah I don’t think anybody went home and said “I’m going to change the
8:52 world” (laughs) Interviewer: But they couldn’t avoid it,
8:54 though, they couldn’t ignore it.