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Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Frances R. Dittmer
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)

Untitled #5

Details
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Untitled #5
signed and dated 'a. martin '96' (on the reverse)
acrylic and graphite on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1996.
Provenance
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Private collection, San Francisco
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1997
Exhibited
Houston, Menil Collection, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, February-May 2002.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Sandra Sublett
Sandra Sublett

Lot Essay

This work will be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonné to be published digitally by Artifex Press.


The ethereal beauty of the serene bands of pale color that make up Agnes Martin's Untitled #5 are the physical manifestation of the artists spiritual views about life and the nature of art. Its absorbing combination of narrow bands of pale pigment alternating with broad stripes of pale bluewhich are in turn, intersected by gossamer-thin graphite linesstands as a testament to her skill of being able to visualize silence and her unique ability to convey the impact of an idea or emotion without the blatant use of imagery. Although her work shuns visible imagery, it softens the unforgiving lines that had dominated the ascent of Minimalism and introduces a discernible quality of infinite delicacy and tranquility. As such, Untitled #5 embodies the sense of stillness and calm that is the central pillar in Martins work and demonstrates how her paintings are meant not merely to be looked at, but also experienced.

"Martin's work is inspired by nature, but not dependent on it. My paintings have neither object, nor space, nor line, nor anything Martin once commented. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form. You wouldnt think of form by the ocean. You can go in if you dont encounter anything. A world without objects, without interruption, making a work without interruption or obstacle. It is to accept the necessity of the simple, going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean" (A. Martin, quoted in D. Schwarz (ed.), Agnes Martin Writings, Winterthur, 1992, p. 7).

Painted just three years after she moved to Taos in New Mexico, the softly colored, almost translucent bands are reminiscent of the ethereal desert light in which she was working. The vast expanse of the empty landscape, where the horizon and sky merge almost imperceptibly, became the inspiration for her work, with her use of color exploring the physical properties of the light spectrum, rather than the objects of color themselves. Martin produced her almost imperceptible tones by diluting acrylic to produce a surface that both reflects and absorbs light. Thus Martin's use of color in these later paintings becomes part of the composition, not merely an expressive device used to represent what is being depicted within it.

Therefore, in Untitled #5 the simple beauty of both the composition and the execution combine to form a work of extreme subtlety; a work that expresses its supremacy by whispering its qualities rather than shouting them: "My interest is in an experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in artwork which is also wordless and silent" (A. Martin, quoted in T. McEvilley, "Grey Geese Descending: The Art of Agnes Martin," Artforum, Summer 1987, p. 99).

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 large 6 x 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids that dissolved into transcendent experiences beyond their physical parameters. This sentiment resounded throughout her career, especially during her later artistic flowering as exemplified by the present work.

Martin's art resonates with a quiet and forceful power. Despite their geometric appearancedevoid as they are of any recognizable figurative elementsthe artists horizontal bands of cool, organic colors are executed on a fundamentally human scale. As critic Nicholas Fox Weber points out, "Where there is reductionthe 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 Untitled #5 whose human scale and meticulously executed painterly surface exude a serene calmness that is contained only within the very best examples of the artists work.

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