Agnes Martin

Summary

ɲ̩

Agnes Martin (March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004) was a Canadian-American painter. Her work has been described as “essays on inner strength and silence. Her work is often referred to as minimalist, while Martin herself considered herself an abstract expressionist. In 1998 she was awarded the US National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2004 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Agnes Bernice Martin was born in 1912 to Scottish Presbyterian farmers in McLean, Saskatchewan, Canada. From 1919 she grew up in Vancouver. In 1931 she moved to the United States to help her pregnant sister, Mirabel, in Bellingham, Wash.

Agnes Martin chose American higher education and became a U.S. citizen in 1950. A. Martin attended Western Washington University Teachers College in Bellingham, Washington, before receiving her Bachelor of Arts (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. While living in New York, Agnes Martin became interested in contemporary art and met artists such as Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) and Joan Miró (1893-1983). She took many studio classes at Teachers College and began to think seriously about a career as an artist.

In 1947 she attended the University of New Mexico Summer Field School in Taos, New Mexico. After listening to lectures by Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki at Columbia University, she became interested in Asian thought not as a religious discipline but as an ethical code, a practical guide to walking the path of life. A few years after graduation, Martin enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she also taught art courses, and then returned to Columbia University to earn a master”s degree (1952) in modern art. She moved to New York City in 1957 and lived in a loft in Counties Slip in lower Manhattan. Counties Slip was also home to several other artists and their studios. There was a strong sense of community there, although everyone had their own practice and artistic temperament. Cuntis Slip was also a haven for the LGBT community in the 1960s. Agnes Martin is believed to have had a romantic relationship with artist Lenore Tooney (1907-2007) during this time. A pioneer of her time, Agnes Martin never publicly expressed her sexuality, but has been described as a “latent lesbian.” The 2018 biography Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon describes several romantic relationships between Martin and other women, including with art dealer Betty Parsons. A. Martin has often used a feminist perspective when criticizing the work of fellow artists. Jale Mansour, an art historian, stated that Martin was “too involved in feminist relations in practice, perhaps, to objectify and label them as such. It is worth noting that A. Martin herself did not consider herself a feminist and even once said in an interview with The New Yorker that in her view “the women”s movement has failed.

It is common knowledge that Agnes Martin had schizophrenia, although this was not documented until 1962. She even once opted for electroconvulsive therapy as treatment at Bellevue Hospital in New York. A. Martin was indeed supported by her friends at Cuntis Slip, who came together after one of her episodes to enlist the help of a respected psychiatrist, who as an art collector was a friend of the community. However, her struggles were largely private and individual, and the full impact of mental illness on her life is unknown.

In 1967, Agnes Martin abruptly left New York City, disappearing from the art world to live a life of solitude. After eighteen months of traveling across Canada and the western United States, Martin settled in Mesa Portales, near Cuba, New Mexico. She rented a 50-acre lot and lived a simple life in the adobe house she built for herself, adding four more buildings over the course of several years. During these years she did not paint until 1971, when she was approached by Douglas Crimp, a curator of exhibitions, interested in organizing her first solo, non-commercial exhibition. Subsequently, A. Martin began to write and lecture about her work at various universities. Gradually, A. Martin”s interest in painting resumed. She approached Pace Gallery about her work, and gallery founder Arne Glimcher (b. 1938) became her art dealer for life. Finally able to own her own property, she moved to Galisteo, New Mexico, where she lived until 1993. There she also built a adobe house, still preferring an ascetic lifestyle. Although she still preferred solitude and lived alone, A. Martin was more active in the art world, traveling extensively and exhibiting in Canada, the United States and abroad. In the last 50 years of her life she did not read newspapers.

In 1993, she moved to a boarding house in Taos, where she lived until her death in 2004.

Many of her paintings have positive titles, such as “Happy Holidays” (1999) and “I Love the World” (2000). In an interview in 1989, discussing her life and her paintings, Agnes Martin said: “Beauty and perfection are one and the same. They never arise without happiness.

Her work is most closely associated with Taos, with some of her early works clearly inspired by the desert nature of New Mexico. But the influence of her young upbringing in rural Canada, especially in the vast and quiet prairies of Saskatchewan, is also strong. Although she called herself an American artist, A. Martin never forgot her Canadian roots, returning there after leaving New York in 1967 and also during her extensive travels in the 1970s. Some of A. Martin”s early works have been described as “simplistic farm fields,” and A. Martin herself has left her work open to interpretation, encouraging comparisons of her unadorned, monochromatic paintings to landscapes.

She moved to New York at the invitation of the artist

In 1967, Agnes Martin is known to have left New York City. Among the reasons cited were the death of her friend Ed Reinhardt, the demolition of many buildings on the Cuntis Slip, and the breakup with the artist Chrissa, with whom A. Martin had been dating throughout the 1960s. During her ten years in New York, A. Martin was frequently hospitalized to deal with symptoms of schizophrenia, which manifested themselves in various ways, including auditory hallucinations and a state of catatonia: she underwent electroconvulsive therapy several times at Bellevue Hospital in New York. After leaving New York, A. Martin wandered around the western United States and Canada, deciding to settle in Cuba, New Mexico (1968-1977) for a few years and then settling in Galisteo, New Mexico (1977-1993). In both New Mexico homes, she built adobe brick structures herself. A. Martin did not return to art until 1973 and deliberately distanced herself from the social life and social events that attracted other artists. In 1974 she collaborated with architect Bill Katz to build a log cabin, which she used as her studio. That same year she completed a group of new paintings, and they have been exhibited regularly since 1975.

In 1976 she made her first film, Gabriel, a 78-minute landscape film depicting a young boy on a walk. The second film, Captivity, was never finished after the artist dumped the draft in a city dump.

According to an interview taped and released in 2003, she moved out of New York only after she was told that the loft she rented

An essay in a book devoted to an exhibition of her work in New York at The Drawing Center (which traveled to other museums as well) in 2005, 3x abstraction, analyzed the spiritual dimension in Martin”s work. The 2018 biography Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon was the first book to examine in detail A. Martin”s relationships with women and her early life, and was written in collaboration with Agnes Martin”s family and friends.

In addition to a few self-portraits and a few watercolor landscapes, A. Martin”s early work included biomorphic paintings in muted tones, made between 1955 and 1957, when the artist received a grant to work in Taos. However, she struggled to excavate and destroy paintings from those years, when she was taking her first steps into abstraction.

Agnes Martin praised Mark Rothko for “reaching zero so that nothing can stand in the way of truth. Following his example, A. Martin also reduced her work to its most reductive elements in order to stimulate the perception of perfection and emphasize a transcendent reality. Her signature style was defined by an emphasis on lines, grids and fields of extremely subtle colors. Especially during her breakthrough years in the early 1960s, she created 6 × 6 foot square canvases covered in dense, fine and softly outlined graphite meshes. At the 1966 System Painting exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, A. Martin”s grids were noted as examples of minimalist art and hung among the works of artists such as Sol Leavitt, Robert Ryman and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, these paintings differed greatly in spirit from those of her other minimalist colleagues, retaining the small imperfections and unmistakable traces of the artist”s hand; she avoided intellectualism in favor of the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, interviews and articles often reflect an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoism. After 1967 her work became dominated by the spiritual aspect, so she preferred to be called an “abstract expressionist.

Before moving to New Mexico, Martin worked only in black, white and brown. Her last painting before she left her career and left New York in 1967, “The Pipe,” marked a departure in that a single rectangle became a general grid of rectangles. In this painting, the rectangles were drawn in pencil over irregular blurs of gray translucent paint. In 1973 she returned to art and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. While in Taos, she introduced light pastel blurs into her grids whose colors shimmered in the changing light. Later, A. Martin reduced the scale of her signature square paintings from 72 × 72 to 60 × 60 inches and switched to using sky-colored stripes. Another departure was a change, if not an improvement, in the grid structure that A. Martin had used since the late 1950s. For example, in the painting “Untitled No. 4” (1994) one can see the delicate streaks of pencil line and primary color blurs of diluted acrylic paint mixed with a primer. The lines that spanned this painting were not measured with a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist. In the 1990s, symmetry often gave way to different widths of horizontal stripes.

Since her first solo exhibition in 1958, A. Martin”s work has been the subject of more than 85 solo exhibitions and two retrospectives, including the review “Agnes Martin” organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which was then exhibited in Jamaica (1992-1994) and “Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1974-1990,” organized by the City Museum of Amsterdam with subsequent exhibitions in France and Germany (1991-92). In 1998, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, presented the exhibition “Works of Agnes Martin on Paper. In 2002, the Menil Collection, Houston, presented the exhibition “Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond.” That same year, the Harwood Museum of Art at the University of New Mexico, Pandora, organized the exhibition “Agnes Martin: Paintings of 2001” as well as a symposium dedicated to A. Martin on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

In addition to participating in numerous international group exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (1997, 1980, 1976), the Whitney Biennial (1995, 1977) and Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1972), A. Martin has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Women”s Caucus of the College Art Association (Governor”s Award for Excellence in the Arts, presented by Governor Gary Johnson, Santa Fe, New Mexico (US National Medal of Arts, awarded by President Bill Clinton and the National Endowment for the Arts (Outstanding Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, awarded by the College Art Association (the Oskar Kokoski Award, presented by the Austrian government

Exhibitions have continued since her death in 2004, including Agnes Martin: Closing the Circle, Early and Late at Pace Gallery. Other exhibitions have been held in New York, Zurich, London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cambridge (England), Aspen, Albuquerque, British Columbia in Canada. In 2012, the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico, University of New Mexico opened an exhibition titled “Agnes Martin Before the Grid” to celebrate her centennial. This exhibition was the first to focus on Martin”s work and life before 1960. The exhibit focuses on many never-before-seen works created by Martin at Columbia, Counties Slip and during her early years in New Mexico. A. Martin”s mental health issues, sexuality and A. Martin”s important relationship with Ade Reinhardt were also examined for the first time. In 2015, the Tate Modern hosted a retrospective of her life and career from the 1950s to her last work in 2004, which will go to other museums after the exhibition in London. At the University of Michigan Museum of Art, A. Martin was featured in “Reductive Minimalism: Women Artists in Dialogue, 1960-2014,” an exhibition that looked at two generations of minimalist art side by side, from October 2014 to January 2015. Ann Truitt, Mary Kors, and contemporary artists Shirazeh Houshiari and Tomma Abts participated in the exhibition.

She was also featured in the exhibition “White on White: Color, Scene and Space” at the Hiroshima Museum of Modern Art. From October 2015 to April 2016, A. Martin”s work was exhibited in “Opening the Box: Unpacking Minimalism” at The George Economou Collection in Athens, Greece, together with Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. From 2015 to 2017, she had numerous solo exhibitions, some at the Aspen Art Museum, Tate Modern in London, the K20 Center, the Art Collection of North Rhine-Westphalia in Dusseldorf, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, the Palace of Governors, the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. She was featured in the ongoing exhibition Intuitive Progression at the Fisher Landau Center for the Arts in Long Island City, New York, from February 2017 to August 2017.

In 2016, a retrospective exhibition of her work from the 1950s to 2004 was presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2016 she also participated in the “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism Exhibition” at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, and earlier that year in the exhibition “Aspects of Minimalism: Selections from East End Collections” at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, New York.

She was also featured in the exhibition “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” at the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown, New York, which shed light on women artists who worked after World War II and before the feminist movement began. The exhibition ran from April 2017 through August 2017 and featured Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, Ligia Clark, Gego, Magdalena Abakanovich, Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse.

A. Martin is in major public collections in the United States, including the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York; Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa, etc. Her work is in “long-term exhibition” and is part of the permanent Dia Art Foundation, Beacon, New York.

International collections of A. Martin”s work include the Tate in London and the Magasin III Kunsthalle, Stockholm, Sweden.

А. Martin has been a source of inspiration for young artists, from Eva Hesse to Ellen Gallagher.

In 1994, the Harwood Art Museum in Taos, part of the University of New Mexico, announced that it would renovate its Pueblo-style building and dedicate one wing to A. Martin”s work. The gallery was designed in accordance with the artist”s wishes to accommodate A. Martin”s gift of seven large untitled paintings from 1993-1994. The Albuquerque-based architectural firm, Kells & Craig, designed the octagonal gallery with an oculus mounted overhead and four yellow Donald Judd benches placed directly below the oculus. The donation of paintings, the design and construction of the gallery were coordinated and overseen by Robert M. Ellis, director of the Harwood Art Museum at the time and a close friend of A. Martin.

In 2007, a painting by A. Martin”s Loving Love (2000) sold for $2.95 million at a Christie”s auction in New York. In 2015, Untitled.

Composer John Zorn wrote the song Redbird (1995), inspired by and dedicated to A. Martin.

Wendy Beckett, in her book American Masterpieces, said of Martin: “Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as a desirable condition of all life. Who could disagree with her…? No one who has spent serious time in front of Agnes Martin”s work, letting her world convey itself, receiving her inexplicable and unspeakable happiness, has ever been disappointed. The work is striking not only for its delicacy, but also for its energy, and this power and visual interest is something to be experienced.”

Poet Hugh Bem-Steinberg”s poem “Gridding, after some sentences by Agnes Martin” discusses patterns in the natural world, parallels between writing and painting, and ends the poem with a line about the poet”s admiration for the work of A. Martin.

Her work served as inspiration for the Google doodle on the 102nd anniversary of her birth on March 22, 2014. The doodle uses color cues from Agnes Martin”s later work, featuring soft edges, muted colors, and distinct horizontal stripes that transition into six vertical stripes, one for each letter of the Google logo.

Sources

  1. Мартин, Агнес
  2. Agnes Martin