Lot 58
  • 58

Agnes Martin

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
1,565,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Agnes Martin
  • Untitled #5
  • signed and dated 1992 on the reverse
  • acrylic and pencil on canvas


PaceWildenstein, New York
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
Sam Havadtoy, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Regina, Saskatchewan, Mackenzie Art Gallery; Berkeley, California, University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Agnes Martin (traveled as Matrix/Agnes Martin), April - September 1995
New York, PaceWildenstein, Group Exhibition, June - August, 1997

Catalogue Note

The art of Agnes Martin manifests itself as an intellectual balancing act, engaging numerous dichotomies with a grace and integrity that verges on the Sublime. In paintings such as Untitled #5 of 1992, Martin’s aesthetic vision finds a sensitive equilibrium between the subtle poetry of delicate mark making and the muscular prose of the Modernist grid. Her paintings present themselves as portals into her unique spiritual sensibility, and yet they function within an ordered regimen. Martin strips down the notions of composition and perspective to essentials, and achieves a wonderful serenity in the process. Her manipulation of the logic of geometry and classical perfection manifests itself in gentle execution which contrasts with the solidity of her pictorial structure. Minimalist abstraction is thus employed not as a clinical device, but rather as a means of revelation. The perfection of the surface engenders beauty, calm and self-reflection in the viewer. As David Ross wrote in 1993 for the artist’s show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “A quintessential twentieth-century ascetic, Martin has successfully pared down both her art making and her life and in so doing has found the kind of focused tranquility that informs her abstract painting.’’ (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Agnes Martin, 1993, p. 6)

Martin’s early paintings of the 1960s established her classic and unique aesthetic which focused on a grid of tightly interwoven vertical and horizontal graphite lines laid over muted monochromatic grounds. Varying the pressure of her graphite line and allowing for human variation in the exactitude of the resulting rectangles, Martin created a visual effect that was dazzling: the evanescence of the purified ground chimed beautifully with the lightly-delineated yet concentrated grid which appears to hover above the canvas. In 1967, Martin left New York to travel and finally settled in New Mexico in 1968. She had abandoned painting on her departure from New York and did not re-emerge in the art world until an exhibition of new work at the Pace Gallery in New York in 1975. The new paintings, although rooted in her innate sensibilities, represented a series of shifts in the structure of the canvas and the use of color. Martin maintained the logic of the grid, but now reveled in a more painterly approach. Her objectives and technique remained the same but gradations of style emerged, and Martin experimented with her refined aesthetic for another quarter century, as wonderfully evidenced in Untitled #5 painted almost two decades after the Pace Gallery show.

In paintings such as Untitled #5, color and spatial design had now become transcendent over line. Martin’s intensive and packed pencil markings of the 1960s yielded to broader bands of lightly tinted color, often inspired by the limitless vistas of both sky and sand that surrounded her in New Mexico. The lines are still barely visible, as if mirages emerging or disappearing in the desert sun. The power of symmetry has remained although the geometric components could now be singular, either vertical or horizontal, and her compositions are more elastic as thin bands alternate with thick in the present painting. The delicate ebb and flow of the softly gradated tones of Untitled #5 are a subtly layered visual pleasure, constrained within the pencil demarcations while it also visually vibrates from the painting surface. Color dematerializes and light seems to emanate from the canvas. One can imagine the artist looking out over the Taos landscape, inspired by the luminous atmosphere and austere quietude of the desert.  Martin felt deeply that artists should aspire to represent and reveal reality through their creations, not in a literal sense but in a deeper more emotive, philosophical and profound manner. As she wrote, ``We are in the midst of reality responding with joy. It is an absolutely satisfying experience but extremely elusive. …The artist tries to live in a way that will make greater awareness of the sublimity of reality possible.’’ (Dieter Schwarz, ed., Agnes Martin: Writings, Ostfildern 1992, p. 93)