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Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Untitled #9
signed and dated 'a. martin 2002' (on the reverse)
graphite and acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 2002.
PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2003
New York, PaceWildenstein, Agnes Martin: Recent Paintings, January-February 2003.

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Lot Essay

"My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in art work which is also wordless and silent" -- Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin's Untitled #9 explores the nature of the sublime, which had been the central focus of Martin's work since the 1960s, in a beautiful and sublime work. She expanded her visual language, after moving to Taos, New Mexico in 1993, to include fields of softly colored opaque surfaces, recalling the ethereal light of the landscape in which she was now working. She used color to explore the light spectrum's physical properties, rather than the objects of color themselves. Martin produced Untitled #9's tones of lavender, celadon and delicate moss by diluting acrylic and combining it with chalky white gesso, to produce a surface that both reflects and both absorbs light. Thus, the way Martin's used color in these later paintings becomes part of the composition, not merely an expressive device used to represent what the artist depicts within it.
Martin's paintings from this period fit squarely into an illustrious body of work by artists sought for the abstract sublime through non-representational means. A generation of post-war American artists took their lead from the likes of Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, launching themselves into this quest with great zeal. Mark Rothko's planes of color float, invoking power or spirit beyond the rational. But it was in Barnett Newman's work that Martin found the strongest parallels. She was attracted to the "insistent succinctness" of his zip paintings and the "oneness" of his fields (N. Rifkin, "Agnes Martin - The Music of the Spheres," Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, Houston, 2002, p. 25). Untitled #9 is rare example of vertical stripes within her work and succinctly shows this parallel between her work and the rigorousness of Newman's sparse geometry.
Painted just two years before her death, Untitled #9 pays 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 the 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, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., 2002, p. 28).

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