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WHAT BECOMES
A LEGEND LEAST

by Charlie Finch
 
Brice Marden was there, of course, in 1966, at the Chelsea Hotel with Bob Dylan and Dennis Hopper. In the early scene of the superhipsters he was the only painter.

Painstakingly smothered beeswax monoliths emerged from Brice in the colors of commuter trains and drab billboards. A generation of painters worshipped him, even as his time and ways had already passed. It is very peculiar to see these paintings now on the sixth floor of the cavernous Museum of Modern Art, dustbin of history. Somebody whispered to me that the one owned by Arne Glimcher, exhibited in this retro show, is worth $20 million. In which case we refer to the Zen cliché that makes the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world because no one can ever price it.

In 1991, Brice changed and fell in love with honeycombs. Or perhaps we should call them Squiggies after the character on Laverne and Shirley. His anal, mistake-proof concerns were locked in box of pastel colors forever and ever. He feels comfortable there, a place where current Venice czar Rob Storr says, "Brice makes paintings for the carriage trade and maybe every tenth one is great."

There’s really only one terrific painting in this series, Study for the Muses (Hydra), typically owned by Ron Lauder, and the total effect of the honeycombs is a game of Sudoku written out in Chinese handcuffs. Pull hard and you’re trapped.

Jackson Pollock would have headed for that tree a lot earlier if he had painted like Brice.

Brice was at the MoMA opening Thursday in a black wool hat, quietly the center of attention, apparently still wondering if his paintings were any good, looking for validation.

He should have been in the studio, trying something new. And maybe in another 20 years, he will.

"Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings," Oct. 29, 2006-Jan. 15, 2007, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).