AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
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AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)

Loving Love

AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
Loving Love
titled ‘Loving Love’ (on the stretcher); signed and dated ‘a. martin 2000’ (on the reverse)
acrylic and graphite on canvas
60 1⁄8 x 60 1⁄8in. (152.6 x 152.6cm.)
Executed in 2000
Pace Wildenstein, New York.
Private Collection, Houston.
Anon. sale, Christie’s New York, 13 November 2007, lot 30.
Private Collection, USA (acquired at the above sale).
Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 1 July 2014, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
T. Bell (ed.), Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, digital, ongoing, no. 2000.005 (illustrated in colour).
K. Schiff, 'Square Dance of joy I', in Tate Etc., Issue 34, Summer 2015, p. 52.
Houston, The Menil Collection, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, 2002, p. 98 (illustrated in colour, p. 99).
Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, 2006 (on short term loan).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Suffused with luminous serenity, Loving Love is a radiant large-scale work that captures the joyful, lyrical beauty of Agnes Martin’s final years. Across a five-foot expanse of canvas, eight delicate peach horizontal bands hover against nine strips of pale blue, each demarcated by quivering pencil lines. A soft, ethereal light glows from the spaces between, dematerialising all sense of colour and form. Painted in 2000, four years before Martin’s death, Loving Love stems from her extraordinary final decade in Taos, New Mexico. It belongs to a group of works produced between 1999 and 2001 in which the artist returned to descriptive titles, each invoking ideas of love, happiness, innocence and peace. These paintings stand among some of her most emotive and evocative expressions, with examples held in institutions including Tate, London, the Dia Art Foundation, New York and the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart. Loving Love shares its title with a 1999 work held in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and featured in a major solo exhibition of Martin’s late works at the Menil Collection, Houston in 2002.

Martin began her career in New York in the late 1950s. There, she took her place in the thriving artistic community of the Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan, whose residents included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. The pared-back, elemental purity of her geometric structures prompted critical comparison with Minimalism, while the sublime sensuality of her surfaces owed much to her admiration for Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. In 1967, deeply affected by the death of her friend Ad Reinhardt, she abandoned the city for good, eventually resurfacing in New Mexico where she had spent her student days. Ensconced in the desert plains, she temporarily gave up painting, pursuing a life of quiet solitude and seeking to empty her mind of all distractions. When she returned to art-making in the mid-1970s, the experience of the hot, vacant landscape would imprint itself upon her work, with the intricate grids and shapes of her early practice giving way to horizontal bands of shimmering colour. After many years in Galisteo, she settled in Taos in 1993, remaining there until her death.

Many of Martin’s early works had used evocative titles, frequently alluding to nature, music and language. From the 1970s onwards, however, she left the majority of her works untitled, reserving her poetic sensibilities for just a few select paintings. The works produced between 1999 and 2001 share much in common with the seven paintings that Martin made for the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos between 1993 and 1994, whose titles drew upon a similar lexicon of carefree happiness and love. For all their apparent abstraction, Martin’s paintings were deeply grounded in human emotion. She believed that art could embody the inarticulate feelings of joy and wonder that we experience in the face of perfection. ‘I am simply painting concrete representation of abstract emotions such as innocent love, ordinary happiness’, she explained in an interview shortly after the present work was made. ‘… I paint about emotions, not about lines.’ Love, she went on to explain, was the only ‘religion’ she followed (A. Martin, interview with L. d’Avigdor for the documentary Agnes Martin: Between the Lines, 2002).

If such thoughts came to the forefront of Martin’s art in her final years, they were perhaps fitting expressions of the freedom and contentment she found during this time. Though her life was punctuated by spells of schizophrenia that occasionally led to hospitalisation, she dedicated herself to the pursuit of tranquillity, fuelled by her engagement with the teachings of Taoism and Zen Buddhism. By the time of the present work, she had—she suggested—been painting horizontal lines for longer than any other painter. The act of tracing her hand over layers of gesso and paint, her line wavering in its quest for linear perfection, was a form of meditation akin to prayer. So, too, was the careful mixing of colours, which—in late works such as the present—glow with a newfound sense of inner light. ‘I believe in living above the line’, Martin explained. ‘Above the line is happiness and love, you know. Below the line is all sadness and destruction and unhappiness. And I don’t go down below the line for anything’ (A. Martin, ibid.).

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