brice marden: physical presence


In Brice Marden’s fifteen-foot-long horizontal frieze The Muses a skein of muted green, gray, white, and blue paint loops across a field of light celadon green. Painted between 1991 and 1993, The Muses evokes a procession of the nine daughters of Zeus as it might have been carved on the pediment of a Greek temple—except that Marden doesn’t depict the divinities, he conjures up their aura. As the eye tries to follow the intersecting tendrils of alternately transparent and opaque paint, nine vertical columns somehow emerge from the ground while at the same time remaining embedded in it.

For an instant the goddesses are luminously present, but more as immanence than as solid forms, semitransparent shapes flickering against the light, perhaps (given the overall impression of green) in an olive grove, just as they might have materialized to the ancient Greeks. But the moment you sense their presence, the Muses disappear, receding back into the “landscape” to become swirls and eddies of paint on a flat plane, mere material. Then we remember that the mother of the Muses is Memory, and the gift they give to mankind is artistic inspiration, something that can arise and evaporate in the twinkling of an eye, and which is beyond human control.

more from the NY Review of Books here.