Agnes Martin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, November 14, 2017 | 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: Artifex Press, 2017 - ongoing, no. 1996.022, online (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "People think that painting is about color

    It's mostly composition

    It's composition that's the whole thing"

    Agnes Martin

    Emptied of image, narrative and “meaning” in any conventional sense, the present two Untitled paintings, both executed in the twilight of Agnes Martin’s career, are nonetheless expansive in their evocation of beauty, peace, happiness and a spiritual sublime. These two works wonderfully embody the expressiveness within minimal means that is a hallmark of Martin's corpus and which stands as her most influential contribution to the discourse on the nature of painting. Manifesting itself as an intellectual balancing act, with a grace and integrity that verges on the transcendent, Martin’s art constitutes a prolonged and fully investigated dissertation into the very nature of abstract painting.

    Painted after her move to Taos in New Mexico, the softly colored, almost translucent bands are reminiscent of the ethereal desert light in which she was working. The vast expanse of the empty landscape, where the horizon and sky merge almost imperceptibly, became the inspiration for her work, with her use of color exploring the physical properties of the light spectrum, rather than the objects of color themselves. “Color in Martin's late paintings serves a function comparable to that of formal design or composition. The way she deploys color alludes to the workings of light rather than to objects of color. Her pale blues are not remote and cool, nor are her yellows hot. Because the paint is diluted acrylic and combines with the chalky whites of her gesso, Martin's colors both absorb and reflect light. This unusual way of handling color, as if to impart a feel or an ‘aroma’ rather than to create temperature or to mimic naturalistic color, characterizes much of Martin's work over the past several years. Her hues, so masterfully washy, are liquid intimations of color. They are also fields of space that recede and advance in relation to one another.” (Ned Rifkin, Agnes Martin—The Music of the Spheres from Agnes Martin: the Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., The Menil Collection, Houston, 2002, p. 26)

    These works present a portal into Martin’s unique spiritual sensibility, and yet are born of a tightly regulated system: emotional verve impeccably and intriguingly obfuscated by an exquisitely structured façade. In the present paintings, the tenets of composition and perspective are stripped down to their essentials, the stunning result being the achievement of unclouded aesthetic serenity. The artist’s gentle manipulation of the logic of geometry and classical perfection contrasts with the solidity of her pictorial structure. By employing Minimalist abstraction not as a clinical device, but rather as a means of revelation, she achieves a perfection of the surface that engenders beauty, calm, and self-reflection in the viewer.

    Martin wanted her work to be about a transcendent experience. Her philosophy centered on a sense of faith, yet her ideas are not to be confused with religion. She was able to see perfection in life and believed that beauty expressed that perfection; she noted, "When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection. […] The function of art work is the stimulation of sensibilities, the renewal of memories of moments of perfection.” (Agnes Martin quoted in Agnes Martin, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2015, pp. 158, 235)

  • 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 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
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 November 2017