Warm and glossy sky-blue glaze…

It was a visit to the “Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty” exhibition, (and the Painting and Calligraphy of the Northern Sung, and Sung Dynasty Rare Books exhibitions), at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2006, that inspired Brice Marden’s recent paintings, Letters, currently on view at the Matthew Marks gallery.

Ju ceramic wares of the Northern Sung, fired in the early 12th century, are porcelains renowned for the classical beauty of their warm and glossy sky-blue glaze. Surviving pieces of Ju ware are extremely rare, with less than 70 found in collections around the world today. The National Palace Museum is fortunate to have 21, the most of any collection. With the discovery of the Ju kiln site, both the scattered unearthed shards and the archaeological excavation of the entire kiln site now offer a better understanding of this kiln and its products. In exploring Ju ware from a single kiln to the broader level of cultural exchange, combined with observations by means of modern scientific equipment, we also have gradually gained a clearer and richer view into its transmission and craftsmanship. [From the National Palace Musuem’s website.]

Located on the Bowery above a noisy, congested block of restaurant-supply shops, it is a stunning contrast to the frenetic pitch of New York. After ascending a nondescript flight of wooden stairs, one penetrates the studio’s aqueous world of cool, washed calm. I am always impressed by how straightforward the place is. It is almost ascetic—clip-on metal lights, a neutral palette, an eastern exposure. Spartan, like a Zen temple to painting. Although there are hints of color here and there—a blue bottle or a yellow painting, or mark of orange —there is an overriding sense of neutrality, a suspension of time and place. The room is vast, about three thousand square feet, with columns, as in most downtown lofts, and very high ceilings. It is the perfect environment for the man, who is quiet, quirky, funny, and intense. Only Brice can explain, in the most unexpected and backhanded way, where references in his work come from: one may allude to an esoteric Ming vessel, another may echo an ancient Japanese stone… But he observes more than he participates. As with the kid who refuses to talk in class, words have to be coaxed out of him. Through spare, his words always deliver.

David Seidner. Artists at Work: Inside the Studios of Today’s Most Celebrated Artists. New York: Rizzoli, 1999, pp. 78–89

David Seidner, [Brice Marden’s Studio], ca. 1990

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