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  • Provenance

    The Pace Gallery, New York; Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; The Pace Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Agnes Martin is a legend in American art. The spare abstract paintings she has produced over the past forty years - graphite lines drawn across white, gray, or delicately colored canvases - are as little-changing as icons. Her published observations on art and life are written in a style both oracular and Shakerplain. Her long residence in New Mexico, in a house she built with her own hands on a remote mesa, has placed her, for many, in the august but eccentric company of the United States's isolated artists - Winslow Homer on the coast of Maine, Albert Pinkham Ryder in his Manhattan apartment - who choose to stay far removed from the mainstream.” (H. Cotter, “Profiles: Agnes Martin- abstract painter”, Art Journal, Fall, 1998)

    In Agnes Martin’s signature form, the horizontal stripe, the viewer approaches beauty and the emotions of life as the artist intended. Working with the horizontal line for the last thirty years of her career, Agnes Martin explores the function of life’s crucial moments—birth, death, joy and sadness—on canvas in an elegiac manner. Her steady graphite line balances the blue palette in harmony.

    In the mid-1960s, Agnes Martin was applauded as a herald of the cool geometric Minimalism that was emerging in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism. Martin, however, personally declined the connection, for she regarded the Minimalist approach as impersonal and dispassionate; her own abstractions were a combination of ideal geometry and the lightest touch of the artist’s hand to achieve a pitch of emotion and feeling. While the formal regularity of Martin’s work led her to be grouped with the Minimalists, she herself preferred to be seen in the context of the Abstract Expressionist painters who were her own contemporaries and early artistic models. Her serial devotion to abstract color and straight form allude to the works of Mark Rothko and Robert Ryman.

    The analogy of these classic grid paintings to the vast, open landscape of both her upbringing in Saskatchewan, Canada and her mature years spent in New Mexico is quite literal. Paying homage to the physical surroundings around her, Martin venerates the environment by capturing its calm and beautiful essence, eclipsing the standard and literal forms of landscape painting (fig1).

    The relationship between a rectangular canvas and the horizon line in Western cultures is a common template that we have accepted through years of engrained visual reference. At first we are able to accept Martin’s canvas as a landscape. Yet upon closer investigation it is clear that the artist divides each section of her canvas, by drawing her horizontal line over the square canvas, and dissects it into rectangular shapes. There is a tension between the square and the rectangle, a struggle for dominance. Martin has admitted to their conflicting relationship, acknowledging the irresolvable tension her canvas creates for the viewer, “My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square; they are rectangles, a little bit off the square, making a sort of contradiction, a dissonance, though I didn’t set out to do it that way. When I cover the square surface with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.” (Agnes Martin, quoted in D. Schwartz, ed., Agnes Martin Writings, Germany, 1992, p. 29). One is reminded, by analyzing her abstract form of expression, of her strong relationship the classic “grid” paintings of Piet Mondrian. (fig 2)

    “My paintings have neither object nor space nor line nor anything—no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form. You wouldn’t think of form by the ocean. You can go in if you don’t encounter anything. A world without objects, without interruption, making a work without interruption or obstacle. It is to accept the necessity of the simple direct going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.” (Agnes Martin, quoted in D. Schwartz, ed., Agnes Martin Writings, Germany, 1992, p. 7)

    Moreover Martin does not lay claim to this one interpretation of her canvases. Suggesting the symbols and subjects at play in her work, the artist describes, “People say my work is like a landscape. But the truth is that it isn’t, because there are straight lines in my work [but] there are no straight lines in nature. My work is non-objective, like that of the abstract expressionists. But I want people, when they look at my paintings, to have the same feelings they experience when they look at landscape so I never protest… my response to nature is really a response to beauty. The water looks beautiful, the trees look beautiful, even the dust.” (Agnes Martin, quoted in Serpentine Gallery, ed., Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1977-1991, London, 1993, p. 13)

    Martin’s works express statements of consciousness, the empty rectangles symbols of a clear mind. They provoke subtle, yet profound, emotions like love, happiness and joys, collections of the artist’s own spirit which she sought to express. Martin’s ultimate goal is to provide the viewer with an aesthetic vocabulary to express the truths of life, centered on the sublimity of reality, perfection and transcendent beauty. Analogical to Taoist beliefs, Martin’s artwork, obsessed with the idea of perfection. Untitled #4 does not falter from the artist’s goals.

  • 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 #4

Acrylic and graphite on canvas.
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm).
Signed and dated “a. martin 1992” on the reverse.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,808,000

Contemporary Art Part I

16 Nov 2006, 7pm
New York