(THIS ESSAY SHOULD PRECEDE THE FOLLOWING TWO LOTS BY MARTN) Agnes Martin was introduced to the artists who lived in Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan by Betty Parsons: she soon joined Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, Robert Indiana, Ann Wilson and Lenore Tawney in a rented studio in the cheap warehouse buildings. The tightly knit group shared studio visits and developed a strong camaraderie, particularly about their art, which dissented from what they saw as the gestural extravagance of Abstract Expressionism.
Martin's own work changed from simple biomorphic forms floating in fields of color (which she had brought with her from New Mexico) to more controlled and geometric forms. Martin's search for a way to express the sublime developed in this period, and she began to use geometric structures and repeated forms to control the chaotic, which she saw as romantic and the opposite of the classical, by which she hoped to reach the sublime.
She made a group of constructions using found objects in which she attached nails, bolts and knobs in grids onto boards that she altered little. These works relate to the combine constructions that Rauschenberg was making (Rauschenberg and Johns lived nearby on Pearl Street). They are distinct from them because they do not celebrate everyday America and are closer to the woven constructions of Lenore Tawney, a close friend of Martin's in this period. The abstraction of Tawney's work and the delicacy of the woven constructions are important for Martin. Her works relate also to nature, and the muted colors and simplified geometries suggest a meditative contemplation of the world. Martin talks at this period of working towards a classical art, and of "people that look out with their back to the world." (in B. Haskell, "Agnes Martin: The awareness of perfection", in Agnes Martin, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1993, p. 102.) The delicate and controlled classicism of these works would lead Martin towards a search for perfection and simplicity that is inherent in her later canvases. Barbara Haskell calls these works "talismans" that "avoided issues of personal handwriting" (Ibid., p.102). They are exquisite fragments of reality, imbued with a felt simplicity that connects the world of nature, that of her childhood in Saskatchewan's wheatfields to the urban waterfront of Manhattan's abandoned docks. There are few of these constructed objects; Martin abandoned them by 1963 because she found them too indebted to material reality. However, as she said, they are "not really about nature. It is not what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind." (A. Martin, "Notes", in Agnes Martin Writings Schriften, ed. D. Schwarz, Ostfildern,1993, p.15)