AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
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A Sophisticated Elegance: Property from the Ella B. Schaap Estate
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)

Untitled

Details
AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
Untitled
signed, inscribed and dated 'I like this drawing very much it / is a very happy drawing. Made / me think of flowers falling / in at the window / Agnes Martin / P.S. drawn in 1961 / P.P.S. Would like it to show in / England in the Heywood [sic] in the / spring' (on a photograph affixed to the reverse)
ink on paper
image: 7 5⁄8 x 8 in. (19.4 x 20.3 cm.)
sheet: 11 5⁄8 x 9 1⁄4 in. (29.5 x 23.5 cm.)
Executed in 1961.
Provenance
Samuel Adams Green, New York, gift of the artist
The Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1976
Literature
T. Bell, ed., Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné: Works on Paper, New York, 2019-ongoing, digital, no. 1961.057 WP (illustrated).
Exhibited
London, Hayward Gallery and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1957-1975, March-June 1977, p. 45, no. 25.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Milwaukee Art Museum; Miami, Center for the Fine Arts; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Agnes Martin, November 1992-May 1994, p. 185.

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Julian Ehrlich
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Lot Essay

Agnes Martin’s Untitled is a critical investigation into notions of harmony and the relationship between artmaking and the sublime. The surface pulses with undeniable rhythm: a visual allusion to sheet music structures the work with a steady optical meter, while the evenly spaced ink lines conjure a beat kept perfectly in time. Resplendent with sumptuous and dense mark-making, core to the present work is a studied understanding of composition and form. Untitled serves as an exemplar of the pleasure to be found in the act of looking, while also provoking meditations on the balance between discord and resolution in the pursuit of perfection.

Martin is almost always historicized in tandem with the grid. Her clean, straight intersecting lines present clear evidence of “the grid’s mythic power” (R. Krauss, “Grids,” October, vol. 9, Summer 1979, p. 54). However, Untitled simultaneously avows and betrays that distinctly modern device. A session of slow looking leaves the viewer with visual sea-legs, the ink lines known to be straight turning wobbly as one’s eye swoops from each column to the next. In this work, Martin utilizes both solid and dashed strokes, with six dotted lines interrupting closely packed horizontals, all bisecting nineteen vertical lines. Upon her inclusion of diagonals, though, Martin veers into optical illusion. These sloped lines run from upper left to lower right, introducing an element of the off-kilter into an otherwise level system. Even so, this aspect of the picture plane remains rigid. The touch of dissonance that ultimately elevates Untitled to masterwork can be found in the dancing left and right edges. The left side offers a clear look at Martin’s flirtation with disorder to attain perfection. The horizontals are not justified; instead, they waltz along the edge of the paper in an unbothered wave, resembling the flickering jumps and starts of a seismograph. Martin’s career was defined by a chase of perfection, an ideal perhaps only achievable in the mind. Here, though, she closes in on her goal by balancing order with deviations from such rigidity. By leaning into the dissonant note, Martin begets a resolving chord, and ultimately, harmony.

At the time of Untitled’s creation, Martin was living in an old sailmaker’s loft in lower Manhattan. Four years prior, the artist had moved from the quiet plains of New Mexico to the bustling seaport district of New York City (H. Cotter, “Agnes Martin,” Art Journal, vol. 57, no. 3, Autumn 1998, p. 79). For Martin, the decade leading up to 1961 was marked by tremendous spiritual and academic growth, as she discovered non-Western modes of thought through texts by scholars like D. T. Suzuki and Jiddu Krishnamurti (ibid.). In the waves of blackened smudge lapping beneath mindful strokes of ink, Untitled hints at the influences of both Martin’s physical proximity to life on the river as well as her recent forays into non-Western spirituality. While there is careful repetition and an aesthetic ode to order, there is also an ineffable, unbound spirit undulating beneath, a movement only detectable in apprehension of the work as a whole.

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