- Agnes Martin
- signed and dated 62 on the reverse
- oil, ink, graphite and nails on canvas
- 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. 26.7 x 26.7 cm.
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1964)
Acquired by the present owner from the above by descent
Agnes Martin's early canvases, such as Kyrie from 1962, focus the viewer's attention firmly onto the grid. The artist created a surface that is at once extraordinarily precious and yet, in its focus on the grid, extremely concrete. The beautiful simplicity presents a grace and integrity that borders on the sublime; like her contemporaries Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt, Martin incorporated a delicate poetry into her aesthetic as she stripped down any notions of composition and perspective to its bare bones and yet achieved a visual serenity in the process. Martin began to think of geometry as an appropriate vehicle for spiritual content and she looked toward the order of Greek classicism to inspire her motifs. Her manipulation of the logic of geometry served a higher pursuit of a classical perfection, which the artist considers absent from nature and only held in the mind.
Martin's choice of title for the present work, Kyrie, is indebted to the Greek language and Christian liturgy. Kyrie is the Greek word meaning O Lord; it is also the common name of an important prayer in Christianity, Kyrie eléison – meaning Lord have Mercy. This is one of the most oft-repeated phrases in eastern Christianity as a response to what God has done and what God will continue to do. The Kyrie additionally served as an important text from which to compose religious music in part because the prayers lent themselves to repetition and served well as building blocks for patterns of call and response. In the present work, Martin used soft graphite, ink and nails over a monochromatic ground in her own form of serial structural configuration. She worked with verticals and horizontals and allowed differing, but exact spaces between her lines. The grid was laid bare and open for the viewer to see, and Kyrie allows us to enter Martin's order and power of symmetry with glorious radiance and lyrical beauty.