Lot 12
  • 12

Agnes Martin

Estimate
2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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Description

  • Agnes Martin
  • Untitled #7
  • signed and dated 1991 on the reverse
  • acrylic and graphite on canvas
  • 72 x 72 in. 183 x 183 cm.

Provenance

Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1994

Exhibited

New York, Pace Gallery, Agnes Martin: Recent Paintings, December 1991 - January 1992
New York, Thread Waxing Space, Behind Bars, March - April 1992, p. 17, illustrated in color
Paris, Galerie Yvon Lambert, Agnes Martin/Richard Tuttle, May - June 1992
Cologne, Galerie Michael Werner, Agnes Martin: Seven Paintings, January - March 1994
Stockholm, Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Agnes Martin: Paintings, May - September 1994
Stockholm, Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Something Turned Into a Thing, September 2012 - June 2013, n.p., illustrated

Literature

David Neuman, Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall: 10 years, Stockholm, 1998, n.p., illustrated (in installation at Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall, Stockholm, 1994)
Arne Glimcher, ed., Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances, London and New York, 2012, p. 143, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Untitled #7 from 1991 magnificently captures the sublime expressiveness within minimal means that is a hallmark of Agnes Martin’s corpus and which stands as her most influential contribution to a discourse on the nature of painting in contemporary art. Manifesting itself as an intellectual balancing act, engaging numerous dichotomies 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. Canvases such as Untitled #7 forcefully assert their place within the canon of Western art history, negotiating a sensitive equilibrium between the subtle poetry of delicate mark-making and the muscular prose of the modernist grid. This work presents itself as a portal into Martin’s unique spiritual sensibility, and yet it is born of a tightly regulated system: emotional verve impeccably and intriguingly obfuscated by an exquisitely structured façade. In the present painting, 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. Minimalist abstraction is thus employed not as a clinical device, but rather as a means of revelation, the perfection of the surface engendering 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) Executed in the same decade in which she received the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association as well as the National Medal of Arts from the Office of President Bill Clinton, Untitled #7 is the consummate culmination of Martin’s prodigious output: a brilliantly balanced symphony composed of the essential leitmotifs that comprise her inimitable technique.

The concurrent and critically celebrated retrospective of Martin’s art, which opened at Tate Modern in June of 2015 before travelling to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, has reaffirmed a truism long known by the global art community: that Agnes Martin is one of the past century’s most dynamic and prodigious artists. Much like her contemporary Robert Ryman, Martin’s practice was at once theoretically and procedurally consistent – perpetually operating within the same general predetermined methodology – and persistently experimental. Viewed collectively as they are in the current retrospective exhibition, her paintings engender a sense of awe and wonderment in their privileged viewers, who sense subtle yet resounding variances in compositional structure and tone that result in an utterly unique collective oeuvre. 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 #7 painted almost two decades after the Pace Gallery show.

In paintings such as Untitled #7, color and spatial configuration come to transcend line. Martin’s intensive and packed pencil markings of the 1960s here yield to six broad bands of lightly tinted color, often inspired by the limitless vistas of both sky and sand that surrounded her in New Mexico. The graphite lines are still barely perceptible, as if mirages emerging or disappearing in the desert sun. They gently frame the thinner bands of a paler hue that delineate the six primary zones of the composition, seeming to concurrently sit atop and submerge themselves within the epic calm of the painting’s ground. The power of symmetry has remained although the geometric components could now be singular, either vertical or horizontal, and her compositions are more elastic. The delicate ebb and flow of the softly gradated tones in Untitled #7 are a subtly layered visual pleasure, constrained within their pencil demarcations while also visually vibrating 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)

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