Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
In Focus: Property from the Collection of Brad Grey
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 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 2001.
PaceWildenstein, New York
Private collection, New York, 2006
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 25 June 2013, lot 40
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
T. Bell, ed., Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings, New York, 2017-ongoing, no. 2001.025 (illustrated in color).
Taos, Harwood Museum of Art, University of New Mexico, Agnes Martin Paintings from 2001, March-June 2002.

Lot Essay

Distinguished by its alternating bands of delicate and refined color, Love represents the pinnacle of Agnes Martin’s long and distinguished career. Painted three years before her death in 2004, this painting belongs to the artist’s final cycle of work, which she executed in her beloved Taos in New Mexico. Evoking the natural splendor of the desert, the narrow and wide bands evoke the vastness of her adopted home. Love is also a rare example within the artist’s oeuvre, in that she abandons her long-held practice 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 color that fuse together to establish a cohesive and open aura of light, space, and calm.

Love’s softly colored, 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 combine, Martin’s use of color explored the physical properties of the spectrum of light, rather than the objects of color 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 color, in such works as this, 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, “What we do not see if we do not see,” quoted in Agnes Martin: Writings, Dieter Schwarz (ed.), Winterthur, 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.

Love represents the triumphal final chapter of Martin’s career. Ned Rifkin describes the sublime effect of her late paintings in the catalogue of the artist’s last major exhibition at the Menil Collection, “For more than five decades, Martin has created paintings that are evocations of light, each an individual issuance of ethereal rhythms. Simultaneously powerful and gentle, they are spartan works, beautiful without the slightest adornment. The paintings that Martin has offered us with unstinting consistency are pictures of anything. They are cadences of light, form, and color. You can ‘hear’ them with your eyes. They are silent sounds” (N. Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., 2002, p. 28). Over a decade after her death, her work remains widely sought after and held in such prominent collections as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the 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.

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