This summer, Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain series will make its Hudson Valley debut at ‘T’ Space, the non-profit arts organization at 137 Round Lake Road in Rhinebeck, New York. Brice Marden: Cold Mountain Studies, on view between June 9 and August 11, marks the series’ first appearance outside of an urban area. Opening hours are every Sunday, 12-5pm.
Founded in 2010 by the Steven Myron Holl Foundation, ‘T’ Space has quickly become a natural place for the arts, nature, and humanism to meet in the Hudson Valley. Boasting a gallery-cum-performance space designed by Holl, a 30-acre nature preserve, and a summer residency program for emerging architects, ‘T’ Space seeks to inspire a contemporary multidisciplinary perspective on the arts, continuing the work begun by the Hudson River School in the nineteenth century. Marden’s Cold Mountain series is a fitting start to ‘T’ Space’s 2019 season. (For more information about Steven Holl and ‘T’ Space, see Claire Lambe’s previous article in Roll Magazine HERE.)
“I am Nature.” In a 1991 interview with Pat Steir, Brice Marden (born 1938) referred to Jackson Pollock’s immortal declaration as one of the greatest statements of the twentieth-century. Said with such innocence and conviction, an artist making such a statement becomes – according to Marden – “Cold Mountain, the place, the attitude, the poem, the idea, and the person.”
He refers to the Chinese poet Hanshan, who was active during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and whose name translates to and writings inspired the Cold Mountain series. Marden first became interested in Taoist philosophy and Chinese calligraphy in the mid-1980s, culminating in Cold Mountain’s 35 images produced in 1989 – 91. Marking a notable departure from his previous monochromatic panel paintings, these calligraphic drawings in black ink and gouache allowed for Marden’s work to reach new levels of intimacy and fluidity. His studies suggest, rather than reproduce, Hanshan’s poetry, while simultaneously evoking the work of Pollock and other mid-century abstractionists.
Unable to read Chinese, Marden took the unspooling lines of the characters and transformed them into pure imagery. Beginning in the top right corner, he dipped a stick in ink and drew Hanshan’s poems, each four vertically arranged couplets of five characters. The use of the natural implement of the stick heightens the work’s connection to nature and the finished product, a tangled web of intersecting strokes, is immediately evocative of Marden’s desire to “make something more like fugues, more complicated, back-and-forth renderings of feelings.” Hanshan’s original poetry would have been similarly organic, written on rocks in the remote mountains that he called home. Who he really was, if “Cold Mountain” was his name or if he was an anonymous poet named for his subject, or indeed if he existed at all, is not certain, but the poetry ascribed to him has endured over millennia. The poem below, in which Hanshan describes himself, shows how fitting it is that Marden’s calligraphic drawings are not calligraphy but marks free of literate interpretation, not intended to be read as writing:
Cold Mountain is nothing but clouds
secluded and free of dust
a hermit owns a cushion of straw
the moon is his lone lamp
his bed of stone overlooks a pool
his neighbors are tigers and deer
preferring the joys of solitude
he remains as a man beyond form.
Raised in the idyllic village of Briarcliff Manor in Westchester, New York, Brice Marden received his MFA from the Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1963. As a student under the tutelage of such artists as Alex Katz and John Schueler, Marden began to explore – in paintings, drawings, and prints – the intersection of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, arriving at the rectangular format and muted palette that characterize his works in the 1960s and 1970s. These early abstract panels, presented on a singular canvas or in diptychs and triptychs, suggested his enduring interest in varied subjects as alchemy and religion, mythology and architecture.
Over the course of his long career, Marden’s work has reflected a wide range of influences, from Robert Rauschenberg (for whom he worked as an assistant in the mid-1960s) and Jasper Johns, to the broader strokes of Asian culture and the arid landscapes of Greece. In 1971, Marden and his wife, Helen, travelled to the Greek island of Hydra for the first time – a place they found so inspiring that they bought their first home on it only two years later in 1973. In 1983, Marden and his family traveled in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India, leading to the subsequent incorporation of elements of Asian traditions into his work. His later works’ heightened use of color and calligraphic gesture reflect these competing interests as evidenced in this piece, 2 Red Rocks 5, made between 2000 and 2002.
The works in this exhibition at ‘T’ Space, and illustrating this article, are small pieces, but many of Marden’s works, particularly his paintings, are monumental in size. He is also a consummate printmaker and his Cold Mountain ‘Zen’ series of sugar-lift etchings are an exceptional use of this technique – a technique also much loved by Picasso.
Marden has been represented by the Gagosian Gallery since 2017, before which he worked with the Matthew Marks Gallery for over 20 years. Now based between Hydra; Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania; New York City; and our very own Tivoli in the Hudson Valley, Marden has been honored with a 2006 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which then traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Germany, and the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Serpentine Gallery in London. To see his work here in Upstate New York and at such an exciting venue as ‘T’ Space is a real gift for our area and not to be missed. There is a sliding scale admission of $0 — $20 for this show and, while you’re there, do allow time to explore all that ‘T’ Space has to offer on its 30 acre nature preserve which is dotted with sculpture and is also home to Steven Holl’s extraordinary little architectural gem, the “Ex of IN” House.
Featured image: Cold Mountain Study (20), 1988 – 91. Ink and gouache on MBM Ingres d’Arches paper, 7 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches. © 2019 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York. Photography by Bill Jacobson, 2019
All images reproduced courtesy of the artist.
‘T’ Space is located at 137 Round Lake Road in Rhinebeck, New York.
More at www.tspacerhinebeck.org.