AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
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AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)

Untitled #5

AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
Untitled #5
signed and dated 'a. martin 1992' (on the reverse)
acrylic and graphite on canvas
72 1/8 x 72 in. (183.2 x 182.9 cm.)
Executed in 1992
PaceWildenstein, New York.
Sam Havadtoy, Budapest (acquired from the above).
Private collection (acquired from the above).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 2013, lot 58.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
T. Bell, ed., Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings (, no. 1992.005 (illustrated in color).
Regina, Saskatchewan, Mackenzie Art Gallery and Berkeley, California, University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Agnes Martin, April-September 1995.
New York, PaceWildenstein, Group Exhibition, June- August 1997.
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Lot Essay

Agnes Martin’s Untitled #5 is an exquisite meditation of the awe-inspiring; a profound postmortem of the dismembered Cubist grid distilled to the purest elements of line and space. Devoid of superfluous elements, this shimmering canvas exposes a monochromatic sphere of rippling transcendental force that empowers the viewer to supplant their sentiments onto each ceaseless vista of misty gray acrylic and diaphanous strand of graphite. For Martin, to utterly yield to the creative process and experience a work of art in absoluteness, one must immerse oneself in the grandeur of introspective quietude. She recalls: “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 is also wordless and silent” (A. Martin quoted in N. Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat. The Menil Collection, 2002, New York, p. 25).

Belonging to her formidable series of 72 by 72 inch paintings, this luminescence of broad and keenly narrow hazy gray stripes, softly punctuated by uniform pencil lines, quietly invites the viewer to be transfixed by the ineffable. Evoking the smoky landscapes of dusk in Galisteo, New Mexico, where Martin dwelled in seclusion, the six thin strips of rhythmic tonalites glimmer between five wide bands of stormier hues. Controlling the striated tempo, graphite delicately punctuates the surface, producing all-over order. A signature of her oeuvre, these precise pencil lines reveal the slightest essence of authorship with each imperceptible vibration of the pencil acting as an index of Martin’s artistic gesture, within a field of alternating swaths. Such uniform irregularity is born out of delicate anonymity. Armed with a pencil and T-square, she mounted her own silent resistance against her Abstract Expressionist contemporaries’ overtly masculine overtures, by way of reductionist brushstrokes and cultivated brilliance.

Untitled #5 was painted the same year as Martin’s career-defining retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, shepherded by the notable Barbara Haskell. Moreover, as one of Martin’s last six feet square canvases, before transitioning to the more intimate five feet square format and saccharine pastel palette, Untitled #5 presents a rapturous masterpiece of effortless perfection. As she wrote of her creations, “My paintings have neither object nor space nor line nor anything—no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form. You wouldn’t think of form by the ocean. You can go in if you don’t encounter anything. A world without objects, without interruption, making a work without interruption or obstacle.” (A. Martin, quoted in L. Cooke and Z. Leonard, Agnes Martin, New York, 2011, p. 84). Evident in the present work, figuration dissolves, laying bare expanses of veiled paint swirling with pigments of incandescent light to cultivate endless airy vistas of the unbound imagination.

Although Martin’s austere canvases are widely seen as exemplars of Minimalism, she considered herself a disciple of Abstract Expressionism. During the embryonic stages of her career in the thriving artist community, Coenties Slip, she refined her geometric lexicon in the company of contemporaries, including Robert Rauschenberg, Barnett Newman and Jasper Johns. Yet unlike her Abstract Expressionist counterparts’ obsession with the brute physical action of painting, Martin turned inward–sifting through the pedagogies of the Tao and laboring over the ruminations of Lao Tzu. Her boundless exploration of Buddhist thought and the scholarly writings of Zen Master D.T. Suzuki, propelled her to bask in the unadulterated sublime and submit to a state of pure tranquility, transfixed by brush and pencil. Martin’s logic of horizontal lines transcends the physical, by assembling a mirage of endless horizon upon which to cast the viewers’ hushed meditations. The prolific art critic Dore Ashton posits, through her works, “Martin has found the spaces of the imagination, and specifically, the spaces between words and silence.” (D. Ashton, Agnes Martin: Paintings and drawings 1957-1975, London, 1977, p. 13).

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