Agnes Martin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Artist
    David and Renze Nesbit, New Mexico
    Renze Nesbit, New Mexico
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    Tiffany Bell, ed., Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, New York, 2017 - ongoing, no. 1996.023, online (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    >“When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is just not in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.” - Agnes Martin

    Painted over a quarter century after Agnes Martin’s move to Taos, New Mexico, Untitled, circa 1995, is a classic example of the artist's iconic square-format, serene, near- monochromatic grid paintings. The delicate graphite tracks of Martin’s pencil sketch horizontal bars across the canvas, while fine, translucent layers of acrylic are built up on a chalky gesso ground to create a luminescent ivory surface. The result is a painting both tranquil and utterly engrossing – like the hypnotic hum of a monastic chant, Untitled encapsulates infinity in a single cadence.

    Precise, penciled lines divide the 12-by-12-inch canvas into a geometric tripartite composition, embodying Martin’s mathematical approach to content, a style she had perfected in the late 1960s. As a young painter living in New York, Martin suffered from deteriorating mental stability and was eventually committed to Bellevue Asylum in 1968. Upon her release, she decided to move to Taos, New Mexico in search of a soothing, transcendent art. Like Yayoi Kusama, known for her obsessive repetition of geometric motifs, Martin’s endless repetition of pale, structured canvases can be interpreted as a search for tranquility and control over her inflamed mind. In the clean, quiet light of New Mexico, Martin turned to Eastern philosophy and let go of all intellectual positions in favor of an awareness of the beauty she called "the inner mind", perfectly embodied in the completely abstract, mantra-like Untitled.

    The horizontal bands, painted rosy white, add a liquid depth to the shimmering eggshell surface, which evokes the calm horizons of her surroundings in New Mexico. Yet while many have read Martin’s paintings as landscapes in the colors of the deserts, for Martin herself they were exclusively reflective of emotional states. “If you were at the beach and keenly aware of the shining waves, the fragrant air, the freedom of mind, feeling happy and free – that is reality. That is life,” Martin described in a 1979 lecture at the University of Santa Fe (Agnes Martin, quoted in “The Current of the River of Life Moves Us", in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances, London, 2012, p. 166).

  • 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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acrylic and graphite on canvas
12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1995.

$350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $375,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue