"In our minds there is an awareness of perfection and when we look with our eyes we see it." Agnes Martin
The year 1992 was a momentous year for Agnes Martin. The artist who had shown steadily in New York galleries and was the subject of several exhibitions in Europe and Canada, was given a full-scale retrospective exhibition in the United States, her first since the groundbreaking exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1973. Her 1992 retrospective opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and went on to travel to four other venues. It sparked an intensely renewed interest in Martin and generated much critical acclaim. Her association with Minimalism during the 1960s had been transformed by the sheer poetry and sublimity of her works which recent viewers found as most salient characteristics of Martin's.
Untitled #6, is a superb example of Martin's late work. Martin's characteristic format of the grid set in a 72 x 72 inch square canvas underwent a radical shift. She eliminated vertical lines, and the visual effect was no longer modular. What remained were horizontal lines that expanded the space within the composition, giving it an all-over appearance akin to the paintings by Abstract Expressionists. Barbara Haskell explains Martin's pictorial strategy, "Taking a cue from artists such as Rothko, Newman, Reinhardt, Martin began to appreciate that geometry could be used in the service of spiritual contemplation. It was not that geometry could represent the reality of the sublime, but that it could offer a means of attaining a 'plane of attention and awareness' upon which the perception of sublimity depended" (B. Haskell, "Agnes Martin: The Awareness of Perfection," Agnes Martin, exh. cat, New York, 1992, p. 102). The horizontal striations of light and medium gray tones are complemented by graphite lines of alternating thickness; the overall sense of rhythmic syncopation is almost hypnotic.
Geometry in the hands of Martin becomes a mutable concept where measured uniformity has been replaced by intuitive approximation. Martin's sense of proportion and touch are unparalleled in Post-War American painting. Regardless of her refusal to associate her paintings with nature, her sensitive renderings of grids and lines are atmospheric. They mimic in effect as well as in representation for instance, the clarity of the blue sky or the opacity of fog. In Untitled #6, natural phenomenon is portrayed in concrete form.
Agnes Martin in her studio, Taos, NW Photo courtesy c caryherz.com