Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
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Agnes Martin (1912-2004)


Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
signed and dated 'a. martin 2001' (on the reverse); titled 'Love' (on the stretcher)
acrylic and graphite on canvas
60 x 60in. (152.5 x 152.5cm.)
Executed in 2001
Pace Wildenstein, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.
Taos, The Harwood Museum of Art, The University of New Mexico, Agnes Martin Paintings from 2001, 2002.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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'
(A. Martin, 'The Still and Silent in Art,' quoted in N. Rifkin, 'Agnes Martin - The Music of the Spheres,' Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., The Menil Collection, Houston, 2001, p. 25).

Painted during the last decade of the artist's life, Love emerges as the pinnacle of Agnes Martin's aesthetic journey. Belonging to Martin's final cycle, which she executed in Taos, New Mexico, Love abandons the artist's thirty year long tradition of leaving her works untitled, in favor of adopting an exuberant, uplifting tone when naming her paintings. Radiating with light, Love is composed of a sequence of enticing, wide horizontal bands of airy colour that fuse together to establish a cohesive and open aura of light, space, and calm. Widely sought after and held in such prominent collections as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate, London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, the Taos paintings, both meditative and classical, are among Martin's most powerful invocations of the sublime, as well as persuasive expression of pure joy.

Reminiscent of the ethereal desert light of Taos, Love's softly coloured, almost opaque sandy bands reflect the vast expanse of the New Mexican terrain. Drawing her influence from the tranquility of the horizon, where sand and sky effortlessly collide, Martin's use of colour explored the physical properties of the spectrum of light, rather than the objects of colour themselves. Maintaining that the infinite vastness of the horizon sparks an awareness of perfection in the human mind that, although unseen and immaterial, is ultimately the essential and pervasive character of reality, Martin intended to recreate this same quiet contemplation of Nature in her canvases. Generating her most delicate tones by diluting acrylic and combining it with the chalky white gesso, Martin's canvases produce a surface that both reflects and absorbs light. As a result, the artist's use of colour, in such works as Love, becomes the defining factor of the composition, not merely an expressive device used to represent the abstraction within.

Revealing the artist's hand, the tracery of the penciled lines drawn at balanced increments, echoing the horizon, Love unveils certain discoveries of the artist's working process. Using a simple ruler to guide each line, subtle evidence of the artist's hand emerges as it pauses and restarts to adjust the ruler across the width of the canvas. Gently expanding from the central band, Martin's compositions are symmetrically balanced, exposing her predisposition for geometrical order. Yet, it is these subtle irregularities within the context of this geometrical uniformity that divulges the humanity of Martin's own touch.

As with the New York School artists, who she knew living in New York during the late 1950s and 60s, Martin employed abstraction as her tool of revelation. Taking inspiration from Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Ad Reinhardt, Martin came to understand how geometric clarity and linearity could be used in the service of subjective emotion and spiritual resonance. Yet, delving further, Martin became concerned with creating transcendent, sublime compositions through her own intimate painterly details. 'The Greeks made a great discovery,' she once observed, 'they discovered that in Nature there are no perfect circles or straight lines or equal spaces. Yet, they discovered that their interest and inclination was in the perfection of circles and lines, and that in their minds they could see them and that they were then able to make them. They realized that the mind knows what the eye has not seen and that what the mind knows is perfection' (A. Martin, quoted in 'What we do not see if we do not see,' Agnes Martin: Writings, D. Schwarz (ed.), Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, 1991 p. 117). It was this perfection that the pared down lines of Martin's essentially humble works, both pointed to and sought to invoke. And more so, here, in Martin's final cycle, she combines this natural purity with her own embrace of sheer goodness, pervasive well-being, and the joyous sense of the sublime.

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