"My paintings have neither objects, nor space, nor time, not anything -- no forms.They [are] not really about nature [they depict] not what is seen, but what is known forever in the mind" - Agnes Martin.
"Art is like a religion for me. It is what I believe in. It is what gives my life a dimension beyond the material world we live in" - Hannelore Schulhof
The deeply spiritual nature of Agnes Martin's work captivated Mrs. Hannelore Schulhof's imagination from the first moment she encountered the work at New York's Elkon Gallery. The two women shared a passionate belief that art had an almost divine ability to transpose the rigid boundaries of its physicality and connect with something deep within the human soul. It is not surprising then that Mrs. Schulhof amassed a remarkable collection of works that spans the full scope of the artist's career, including both paintings and works on paper. Ever since that first encounter with Agnes Martin's work, Mrs. Schulhof was entranced by Agnes Martin's subtle version of Abstraction, an admiration that would last for many years, and she often fondly recalled the story of their first meeting when Martin approached her at a gallery and asked, "Do you have any of my paintings?" "Yes, ten of them," Hannelore replied, "Then you must be Mrs. Schulhof!" Martin responded. The two women remained in contact, with the Schulhofs eventually visiting Martin's home in Cuba, New Mexico--an experience that proved to be a revelatory one for Mrs. Schulhof. "You can understand her paintings when you go down there," she explained, "because of the flatness" (H. Schulhof, interviewed by L. Philips, "Conversation with Hannelore Schulhof," The Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, New York, 2011, p. 42).
Coming of age during the ascent of Minimalism, Agnes Martin brought a new voice to that era's literalist Zeitgeist, successfully channeling her unique visual framework through half a century of her oeuvre. Adhering to the frank exposition of materials and techniques and to the radically simplified formats of the grid, she nonetheless mined the expressive potential of pared-down abstraction, infusing her work with a measure of delicacy and meditation. Coupled with the idiosyncrasies of their individual construction, Martin generated poetic counterparts to the hard edges, sleek surfaces and industrial fabrications of more doctrinaire manifestations of Minimalism. As these works from the Schulhof Collection establish, the artist created works that were intimate, joyful -- even playful -- and allusive. In Untitled #20, Martin celebrates the beautiful simplicity of the graphite line as it responds gracefully to the surface of the gessoed canvas and the sublime subtlety of Untitled #7 washes over the viewer with a powerful sense of soulful revelation.
Drawn to the sublime abstractions of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who each used art as a vehicle for certain concrete but ineffable feelings, Martin worked towards a geometric style that conveyed her metaphysical ambitions. Indeed, rather than stating the purely material aspects of painting, she transformed the objective clarity of the grid into portals of subjective emotion and spiritual resonance. In her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6x6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids that dissolved into transcendent experiences beyond their physical parameters. Of this tendency she once said, "My paintings have neither object nor space nor line nor anything -- no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form" (A. Martin, quoted in N. Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., The Menil Collection, Houston, 2002, pp. 14-15). This sentiment resounded throughout her career and especially during her later artistic flowering.
Martin's art resonates with a quiet and forceful power. Despite their geometric appearance-devoid as they are of any recognizable figurative elements--the artist's horizontal bands of warm, organic colors are executed on a fundamentally human scale. As critic Nicholas Fox Weber points out, "Where there is reduction the paring down gives the object a life of its own. The work, consistently, is profoundly human, as emotive as ancient ruins, ineffably rich behind the apparent leanness" (N. Fox Weber, The Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, New York, 2011, p. 11). This sense of 'humanity' is clearly present in the horizontal bands of both Untitled #20 and Untitled #7 whose human scale and meticulously executed painterly surface exude a warmth and calmness that is contained only within the very best examples of the artist's work.
In his book Mondrian: On Humanity of Abstract Painting, the art historian Meyer Shapiro validates the importance of abstract art within the context of an art historical canon that has been dominated by figurative representation. "Humanity in art" he proposes, "is therefore not confined to the image of man. Man shows himself too in relation to the surroundings, in his artifacts, and in the expressive character of all the signs and marks he produces. These may be noble or ignoble, playful or tragic, passionate or serene. Or they may be sensed as unnamable yet compelling moods" (M. Shapiro, quoted by N. Fox Weber, The Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, New York, 2011, p. 19). Much of this history of Abstraction has been dominated by the forceful masculinity of the artists who came to dominate the genre, artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still. Martin refused to be drawn into this tumultuous world, instead searching out an alternative that was able to withstand the painterly cacophony produced by her male counterparts. As can be seen by these works from the Schulhof Collection, the result is a triumphal coming together of the holistic nature of painting that Martin proscribed. Both Untitled #20 and Untitled #7 stand as a victorious tribute to the work of an artist who spent her career trying to capture human existence's true essence. Her paintings transcend the purely visual and extend their reach deep into the soul. Ned Rifkin describes this sublime effect of Martin's late paintings in the catalogue of her last major exhibition at the Menil Collection, "For more than five decades, Martin has created paintings that are evocations of light, each an individual issuance of ethereal rhythms. Simultaneously powerful and gentle, they are spartan works, beautiful without the slightest adornment. The paintings that Martin has offered us with unstinting consistency are pictures of anything. They are cadences of light, form, and color. You can 'hear' them with your eyes. They are silent sounds" (N. Rifkin, op. cit., 2002, p. 28). The importance of Agnes Martin's work within the Schulhof Collection pays tribute to the unique vision of these two women who sought to embrace this spirituality in art in its purist form.