Agnes Martin - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Pace Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, The Pace Gallery, Agnes Martin: New Paintings, January 18 - February 16, 1985 Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Minimalism and Post-Minimalism: A Dialogue, August 1, 1993 - August 1, 1994. This work was on long-term loan to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, December, 2006 - February, 2015

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this… Not a specific response but that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature—an experience of simple joy." Agnes Martin

    With only the sparest of means—delicate line and pale color washes—Agnes Martin's art evokes the sublime. Like the Abstract Expressionist painters with whom she felt a special kinship, Martin keenly believed in a work’s ability to express spiritual transcendence. As Martin affirmed, "I consider myself one of them. They had a whole philosophy. They dealt directly with those subtle emotions of happiness that I'm talking about." (A. Martin, quoted in 3x Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz and Agnes Martin, New York, 2005, p. 49) Whereas Newman focused on the zip's robust vertical chasm, and Rothko devoted himself to boldly hued rectangular veils of paint, Martin made the line and the grid her signature, always applied with the lightest touch of pencil and pen. Untitled #7, from 1985, demonstrates the extraordinarily rich effects that she achieved with only the simplest of means.

    Coming of age during the ascent of Minimalism, Agnes Martin brought a new voice to that era's literalist zeitgeist, successfully channeling her unique visual framework through half a century of her oeuvre. Adhering to the frank exposition of materials and techniques and to the radically simplified formats of the grid and line, she nonetheless mined the expressive potential of pared-down abstraction, infusing her work with a measure of delicacy and meditation. Coupled with the idiosyncrasies of their handmade construction, Martin generated poetic counterparts to the hard edges, sleek surfaces and industrial fabrications of more doctrinaire manifestations of Minimalism. As Untitled #7 illustrates, she created works that were intimate, joyful, and allusive. The present work expands in front of the viewer like a soulful revelation of profound emotion.

    Varying the pressure of her graphite line and allowing for human variation in the exactitude of the resulting linear arrangement, Martin created a visual effect that was dazzling: the evanescence of the purified ground chimed beautifully with the sort of square within a square she has created by laying down so many tremulous lines which appear to hover above the canvas. This particular work is notable for the extreme parity of its composition. Uniformly warm in its white wash, the canvas is broken up by Martin’s repeated linear notations. The new square created within the confines of the canvas does seem to materialize and dematerialize and in the mind’s eye of the viewer a new wholeness is created. Appearing diagrammatic up close, these bands palpitate at a distance, advancing and receding, coming in and out of focus. Coalescing with veil-like ethereality in expansive pools of radiance, they seem to defy their material basis. This exalted reception of Untitled #7 mirrors Martin's process, which is meditative and akin to a form of prayer. Beginning by drawing graphite lines on gessoed surfaces using strings that were stretched tautly across the canvas, she enacted each line as a balancing act, requiring intense concentration and halting progress, which showed in the visible tremors of the obviously hand-made final product.

    Martin's art resonates with a quiet and forceful power. Despite their geometric appearance devoid as they are of any recognizable figurative elements, the artist’s horizontal bands are executed on a fundamentally human scale. As critic Nicholas Fox Weber points out, "Where there is reduction the paring down gives the object a life of its own. The work, consistently, is profoundly human, as emotive as ancient ruins, ineffably rich behind the apparent leanness." (N. Fox Weber, The Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, New York, 2011, p. 11) This sense of humanity is clearly present in the horizontal bands of Untitled #7 whose human scale and meticulously executed painterly surface exude a serene calmness that is contained within the very best examples of the artist’s work.

    In 1967, Martin left New York to travel and finally settled in New Mexico in 1968. She had abandoned painting on her departure from New York and did not re-emerge in the art world until an exhibition of new work at the Pace Gallery in New York in 1975. The new paintings, although rooted in her innate sensibilities, represented a series of shifts in the structure of the canvas and the use of color. Martin maintained the logic of the grid, but now reveled in a more painterly approach. Her objectives and technique remained the same but gradations of style emerged, and Martin experimented with her refined aesthetic for another quarter century, as wonderfully evidenced in Untitled #7 painted nearly one decade after the first Pace Gallery show.

    Martin's work is a deliberate echo of the sublime beauty and selfless happiness that she believed can be found in the experience of gazing at a wide horizon. From the plains of Tulsa to the desert and the ocean, Martin maintained that the infinite expanse of the horizon triggers in the human mind an awareness of a wholeness and a perfection that, although unseen and immaterial, is ultimately the essential and pervasive character of reality. Profoundly inspired by a variety of philosophical sources ranging from the Bible to the writings of Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, this Taoist in Taos believed that all human beings momentarily sense the presence of this perfection in the world in moments of exaltation: those experienced alone in the quiet contemplation of Nature. It is only at such times, Martin asserted, when self-awareness is quieted by such external stimuli that one forgets one's self, becomes truly humble and is therefore able to appreciate such perfection. Even though such moments are fleeting, she insisted, they point to universal and absolute truths and it was the purpose of her art to reawaken such moments of awareness in the viewer.

    Like many artists of the twentieth century, Martin turned to abstraction as her tool of revelation. Through her contact with the work of Rothko, Newman and Reinhardt in the 1950s, Martin had learned to appreciate how geometry could be used in the service of spiritual contemplation. But looking past their essential Romantic art to its classical roots in Ancient Greece, Martin began to rely solely upon a simple geometry in her work to convey a sense of the sublime. "The Greeks made a great discovery," she once observed, "they discovered that in Nature there are no perfect circles or straight lines or equal spaces. Yet they discovered that their interest and inclination was in the perfection of circles and lines, and that in their minds they could see them and that they were then able to make them. They realized that the mind knows what the eye has not seen and that what the mind knows is perfection" (A. Martin, "What we do not see if we do not see," quoted in Agnes Martin: Writings, D. Schwarz (ed.), Winterthur, p.117)

    Drawn to the sublime abstractions of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who each used art as a vehicle for certain concrete but ineffable feelings, Martin worked towards a geometric style that conveyed her metaphysical ambitions. Indeed, rather than stating the purely material aspects of painting, she transformed the objective clarity of the grid into portals of subjective emotion and spiritual resonance. In her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created large 6 x 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids that dissolved into transcendent experiences beyond their physical parameters. This sentiment resounded throughout her career, especially during her later artistic flowering as exemplified by the present work.

    Martin’s philosophy was centered on her spiritual readings and reflections, drawn from a myriad of sources including the Bible and the writings of Chinese sages. Yet her ideas are not to be confused with religion or confined to a proscribed ideology, any more than her art can be categorized or labeled. Martin’s art is simultaneously intuitive and intellectual, intimate and universal. She was able to see the ethereal sublime in the physical realities of life and believed art could capture that essence. “The miracle of existence, is that we are able to recognize perfection in beauty. Beauty is unattached; when a beautiful rose dies beauty does not die because it is not really in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in the mind.” (Agnes Martin, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, pp. 93-94)

  • Artist Biography

    Agnes Martin

    American • 1912 - 2004

    Known for her deeply soothing and intricately ordered abstractions, painter Agnes Martin developed an artform that was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism, American Transcendentalism, and the placid complexity of the landscape. Martin produced a body of work distinguished by its use of orderly grids and calm lines executed in a soothing and organic palette. While she has been associated with both the Abstract Expressionists and the Minimalists, Martin’s painting evades classification; she charted new terrain that existed outside of the traditional conventions of the painterly avant-garde, producing a novel artform that envelops the viewer in its soothing totality, creating an effect much like the entrancement produced by the relentless sound of crashing waves.

    Martin’s work is intimately tied to place and pattern. Throughout her career, she worked between the arid deserts of Taos, New Mexico and the concrete canyons of Lower Manhattan. The work Martin produced in each place reflects the material experiences of localized being, tempered by manifestations of the artist’s lifelong habits of meditation and her adherence to Buddhist and Transcendentalist teachings. Martin’s work was widely celebrated during her lifetime, as she was represented by the prestigious Betty Parsons Gallery, but it has experienced in recent years a renaissance of public opinion with recent retrospectives at Tate, London in 2015 and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2016.

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Untitled #7

acrylic, graphite on canvas
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Signed and dated "amartin 84" on the reverse.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $4,197,000

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Amanda Stoffel
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Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm