Artist Spotlight: Joseph Marioni

February 6, 2019

American artist Joseph Marioni is considered one of the most important figures to come out of the New York Radical Painting group. During the late-1970s the members of this small movement began testing the definition of the painting medium in response to the Minimalist and Conceptualist theoretical assertions of the preceding decade, which had attempted to divorce the fundamental nature of painting from the images it delivered.  Marioni points out that the invention of the camera did for painting what the invention of the printing press did for writing; “it liberated the painter from historic obligations to record and document history.” Painters were then tasked, for the first time, with discerning the function of their craft independent of its contribution to social progress. The Radical Painting group, whose members included Olivier Mosset and Marcia Hafif, sought to uncover the “roots” and the “sensation” of painting. The artists within the collective each realized these roots differently and thus produced a diverse body of work under the “radical painting” label. For Marioni, color stood out as the primary root of painting. With this conclusion, he strayed from minimalist thought by rejecting the primacy it placed on the painting’s two-dimensionality.  Marioni argued that painting’s specificity rests in its sensory experience rather than the physicality examined by minimalist theory. While “painting involves the articulation of color on a flat plain, that merely describes the playing field,” he explained. ‘Flatness’ is still a tactile qualification and is thus shared with sculptural media as well. According to Marioni, painting alone is experienced exclusively through the sense of sight, and therefore the medium’s “game is light.” As color is the perception of specific wavelengths of light, the actual sensation of a painting is “the seeing of that color.”

Joseph Marioni, Untitled
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

When Marioni began painting, the medium had become, in his words, “an old-fashioned art form” that “was going out of favor.” Regardless, the artist felt “nourished” by color and was compelled to examine it. While his paintings are often described as monochromatic, he rejects this characterization. The process that Marioni developed during his years with the Radical Painting Group involved a repetitious layering of paint on his canvas. While Untitled (c. 1968) and Opus 15: Birth of Yellow Light #5 (1971) predate Marioni’s involvement with the Radical Painting group, his interest in color was evident from very early on in his career.

Joseph Marioni, Opus 15: Birth of Yellow Light #5 (First Performance)
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Marioni says that over the course of his forty-year career, his works have transformed from “more aggressive objects” with all the frontality and opaqueness of a thirty-five-year-old man’s demeanor into mature demonstrations of transparency and internal light. Art critic Michael Fried, whose famous 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood” railed against minimalism, gratuitously praised Marioni.  Fried regarded Marioni as “one of the foremost painters” of the present moment, saying that his works “transcend all previous limitations of the monochrome” and should be “considered paintings in the fullest and most exalted sense of the word.”

Fried, Michael. “Joseph Marioni.” Artforum International, Sept. 1998, p. 149.
Lodermeyer, Peter. “Joseph Marioni: Conversation with Peter Lodermeyer.” 12 Mar. 2008.
Morgan, Robert C. “Joseph Marioni: Eye to Eye.” The Brooklyn Rail, Feb. 2012, p. 55.


Lot 192
Joseph Marioni
c. 1968
Acrylic on canvas
Signed in graphite canvas verso
Canvas: 56.5″ x 68.625″
Frame: 57.75″ x 69.75″

Estimate: $15,000–20,000
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 193
Joseph Marioni
Opus 15: Birth of Yellow Light #5 (First Performance)
Colored pencil on silkscreened Color-Aid paper mounted to board
Signed, titled, and dated in black felt-tip marker backing board verso
Composition/sheet: 18″ x 18″
Frame: 26.25″ x 26.25″

Estimate: $4,000–6,000
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

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