AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
3 More
A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)

Untitled #2

AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
Untitled #2
signed and dated 'a martin '96' (on the reverse)
acrylic and graphite on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Executed in 1996.
PaceWildenstein, New York
Private collection, New York, 1997
Richard Gray Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011
T. Bell, ed., Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, digital, ongoing, no. 1996.002 (illustrated).
New York, PaceWildenstein, Agnes Martin: Recent Paintings, January-February 1997.
New York, Richard Gray Gallery, Threat and Degradation, September 2011.

Brought to you by

Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Associate Vice President, Specialist, Co-Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Conjuring the stillness of a New Mexican desert or the vast plains of her native Canada, Untitled #2 is a poignant example of Agnes Martin’s later work. Adhering to her self-imposed compositional structure, its subtle bands of color hover in a hazy stasis before the viewer and absorb one deeper into the work the longer they look. Never directly tied to a specific location, these works exude a more universal sense of calm. “It’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in the landscape,” Martin said of her painting (A. Martin, in conversation with I. Sandler, Art Monthly, no. 169, September 1993, p. 4). Completely abstract but based on meticulous rationality, her deliberately quiet paintings force one to slow down and relish the act of observation. Working in the heyday of the New York school, she had her first solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1958. Just one year earlier, she had moved to Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan where her neighbors included artists like Ellsworth Kelly and James Rosenquist. Like them, she eschewed the gestural abstraction that was en vogue, instead choosing to build a singular visual vocabulary that was distinctly her own.

Rendered within a five-foot square canvas, Martin alternates bands of the lightest peach and gray-white. The five stripes of color are thinner than their snowy cousins, and the edges show traces of graphite that help differentiate the visual elements. Though technically these rectangular applications of paint make up the overarching structure of the work, they are so similar in hue and subtly applied as to create a constantly vibrating visual sensation where one color pops in front of the other and then quickly recedes. The idea that these forms are not fixed, that they pulsate within our vision, is key to understanding Martin’s motivating idea. “My paintings have neither objects, nor space, nor time, not anything—no forms,” she explained. “They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form … You wouldn’t think of form by the ocean” (A. Martin, quoted in A. Wilson, “Linear Webs,” Art and Artists 1:7, Oct. 1966, p. 49). In an effort to create nonrepresentational paintings that evoke real feelings found in our experience of the world, the painter relied on the orderly application of media with slight deviations that point to the human element alive within her work.

The nascent Minimalists were enamored with Martin’s rational approach and evanescent canvases. Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt all drew inspiration from her in the late 1960s, using grids, graphite, and formal geometry in a manner tangential to the elder artist. However, Martin herself identified more as an Abstract Expressionist, noting that her work was more about a feeling and a sense than anything object-based or structural. The distinguished New York critic Peter Schjeldahl noted this discrepancy, writing, “It is a lovely thing to see how Martin’s ‘formlessness’ is achieved by exact formal means … The result of these calculations is like a visual equivalent of silence, in which the least inflection—a pale hue or the bump of a pencilled line over the tooth of the canvas--signs” (P. Schjeldahl, “Minimalism”, in The Hydrogen Jukebox: Selected Writings of Peter Schjeldahl, 1978- 1990, Berkeley 1993, pp. 224-25). Instead of the brash acts of gestural machismo that so enthused her colleagues, Martin sought to create a stillness that would pervade the space and capture viewers in a haze of reverie.

Early in her career, Martin created works of pencil on canvas that laid the groundwork for her later investigations with color. Adhering to a logical system, the repeating lines of the hand-drawn grid create an optical effect where individual lines became part of a larger field that pulses within the viewer’s eye line. The artist regarded this approach as an evolution of the all-over methods of her Abstract Expressionist peers, a method that prioritized the flatness of the canvas and did away with any hint of illusionary depth. Michael Govan commented that Martin’s work established “a transparent non-hierarchical field of vision,” adding that “while even the inventors of abstraction, such as Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian clung to painterly composition, Martin virtually dispensed with this concept altogether. In fact, her paintings were barely paintings at all” (M. Govan, “Agnes Martin,” in L. Cooke and M. Govan, Dia: Beacon, New York, 2003, pp. 209-210). In 1967, the artist began to concentrate on writing instead of painting, not returning to her visual practice until 1974. It was at this point that she began to more fully develop the uniform bands of color that are seen in works like Untitled #2. Her use of faint graphite and hues close to that of natural canvas produce a dematerializing effect that allows the very composition to fade before our eyes.

More from A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection Part I

View All
View All