Camille LeFevre reports back on the Guggenheim's retrospective exhibition of work by noted abstract painter Agnes Martin, whose restraint and discipline on the canvas offer a much-needed respite in turbulent times.
December 7, 2016

Agnes Martin with Level and Ladder, 1960. Photo: Alexander Lieberman, courtesy of J Paul Getty Trust and Guggenheim Museum.

"To be abstracted is to be at some distance from the material world. It is a form of local exaltation but also, sometimes, of disorientation, even disturbance. Art at its most powerful can induce such a state, art without literal content perhaps most potently. Agnes Martin, one of the most esteemed abstract painters of the second half of the twentieth century, expressed—and, at times, dwelled in—the most extreme forms of abstraction: pure, silencing, enveloping, and upending."

                                    Nancy Princenthal, from Agnes Martin: Her Life and Work

Dismay. Illumination. Uplift. Irritation. During and after a day spent viewing the first New York retrospective of Agnes Martin’s work, at the Guggenheim through January 11, all of these sensations arose. In the Guggenheim’s white rotunda, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to spiral up, seashell-like, through six levels—with a vertigo-inducing atrium open in the middle—Martin’s equally austere works are hung in rooms and alcoves along the gradually elevating (or declining, depending on your direction) ramps.

Agnes Martin, Mid-Winter, 1954. 

And the exhibition opens with a challenge: How did Martin (1912-2004) get from here—Mid-Winter (1954), an oil on canvas bursting with large bulbous forms hugged by curving shapes underscored with horizontal fragments all in a color palette of black, brown, grey and whites—to there, an entire room devoted to the 12 nearly-white line paintings that make up The Islands (1979)? The latter are large-scale works of respite and luminosity; classic examples of Martin’s horizontal grid paintings rendered with such a refined hand and disciplined sensibility to render the descriptor “minimalism” almost moot .

Martin famously (and infamously) destroyed nearly all of her paintings before Mid-Winter. So, the process of moving through the exhibition, of circling up through the Guggenheim and viewing the work, which is largely organized chronologically (with a few jarring exceptions), is to experience the ardent refinement of a life, aesthetic sensibility, and artistic practice to its exquisite apex. To achieve this, Martin lived an ascetic life, punctuated by moves (she eventually settled in Taos, New Mexico), bouts of and hospitalization for schizophrenia, a few well-guarded love affairs, exhibitions, fast and expensive cars, and travel.

But toward the end of her life, after moving from the house and studio she built in the high desert to a retirement home (she’d leave every day, driving to her studio to paint), which took care of her cooking and cleaning needs (although, in a video at the Guggenheim she mentions giving up housework long before that), she was free to devote herself solely to painting. Free to heed the "visions" that provided the "inspirations" (Martin’s words) that she reproduced as her work.


While one wants to shake Martin for her refusal to engage, doesn’t her work also represent a much-needed respite from the crudity and cruelty of 21st century politics? 


Grids. Dots. Ruled lines. When Martin finally lit on this painstaking system of making work—of, dare we say, organizing her prodigious thoughts and roiling emotions in a way that offered a sense of control—she was on her way. White Flower (1960-62), made while she lived in Coenties Slip (a warehouse area near Wall Street in New York) resembles a brown piece of cloth knit with lightly dabbed flecks of white in a perfect grid. The work appears at once archetypal and ahistorical. Keep looking.  With White Flower and many of the works that follow, distinct tonalities and shapes start to emerge.

Agnes Martin, White Flower, 1960.

So, too, does a sense of movement—in the washes, such as Summer, 1964, in particular. Martin’s fine lines (drawn with graphite and using a ruler) in her precise grids issue order and restraint, while also giving the work an extreme formality that safely contains the embedded diaphanous forms, textural materiality, and painterly sense of movement that morph to the surface of those grids. For Martin, in other words, discipline was freedom.

In their extremity, however, Martin’s paintings illustrate just how well she was able to turn her back on the world (a film about her, With My Back to the World, shares this sentiment). She chose a life of solitude. And in works such as White Flower II and Fiesta (both from 1985), Martin reduced her palette to gray and white, with horizontal lines as defined as those printed in a notebook. In her biography of Martin, Nancy Princenthal says such works served to guard Martin "against the vulgarities of life." Martin’s work, she adds, "not only challenged the visual and psychic abundance of the world but also filters it, relieves it of impurities." 

Agnes Martin, Untitled #2, 1992. © 2015 Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Martin studied Zen and Buddhism. She believed artists shouldn’t be of the world and should avoid political and social responsibilities. Here’s where the irritation enters in. In one of the restrooms at the Guggenheim, just beyond Martin’s work in the rotunda, is Maurizio Cattelan's America, an 18-karat gold toilet that’s heavily guarded but free to use. Ostensibly, the work was created to give anyone (who had paid museum admission) the opportunity to experience a luxury enjoyed by the 1 percent. Instead, it’s something of a horror.

In our current political climate, evoking the lifestyle of the President-Elect, along with the narcissism, grandiosity, racism, misogyny, and elitism the supposedly "populist" non-politician represents, Cattelan’s work is a one-dimensional vulgarity. Within the context of the Martin exhibition, the toilet’s expression of intimacy (the seat is very cold, by the way) is anachronistic, if not utterly graceless. But it also sits in stark juxtaposition to the creative impulse and intent of Martin’s ethereal paintings.

While one wants to shake Martin for her refusal to engage, doesn’t her work also represent a much-needed respite from the crudity and cruelty of 21st century politics? And isn’t the idea of a reclusive, creative life attractive, especially now? Martin worked up until her death, creating light-filled color fields with titles like Gratitude and Happiness. She was a tough cookie and an inimitable presence, as well as fiercely protective of herself and her work. But she also exudes, in these last works, a softness that’s as much a refutation as an embrace.

Agnes Martin, Summer, 1964.


Related exhibition information:

Agnes Martin is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City from October 7, 2016 - January 11, 2017.

Camille LeFevre is a long-time arts writer in the Twin Cities and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities.



Realy great job! Keep worrking, i'll come back to this article again!

ip 192.168.o.1 


happy new year <a href=""> Felicitaciones de Navidad 2016 </a> <a href=""> Frases de Navidad 2016</a> thank you so much


happy new year <a href=""> Felicitaciones de Navidad 2016 </a> <a href=""> Frases de Navidad 2016</a> thank you so much


happy new year <a href=""> Felicitaciones de Navidad 2016 </a> <a href=""> Frases de Navidad 2016</a> thank you so much


i am for the first time here. I found this board and I in finding It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to present something back and help others such as you helped to cultivate cannabis


Its a great pleasure reading your post.Its full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work.

cannabis grow racks


Awesome and interesting article. Great things you've always shared with us. Thanks. Just continue composing this kind of post. click for info

Limos On The Strip:

I think that this work sucks, but that's just me. Las Vegas Limousine Wedding Packages


I was looking at some of your posts on this website and I conceive this web site is really instructive! Keep putting up..


Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts.movers in calgary


I am happy to find this post Very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I Always prefer to read The Quality and glad I found this thing in you post. Thanks

advogados de imigração

Kim Matthews:

Quiet, subtle, nonobjective work is often characterized as inaccessible but I think that has far more to do with the audience than the maker. I was at the retrospective the last weekend of the show and was thoroughly dismayed by the hordes of people unwilling to stop for a moment to even engage with the work in any meaningful way They were too busy talking and taking selfies to give the work what it deserved. If these same people were in a chapel, I wonder if they would behave the same way. All it takes is time to let the eyes adjust to the light and to be enveloped by these works and the willingness to embrace mystery. But I guess that's too much for the kind of people who'd spend 90 minutes standing in line to use a 24-karat gold toilet.


good Share videos, sounds, Photos and more file IMO App If you already have Imo.APK file on your home windows computer nice.


This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. Thanks for this nice article.

advogado trabalhista


For all readers here, this should be perfectly pure already! You should look at a backlink to your tract as a "Vote" from part websites. Large Quantity DA domains | Blogs creation


<a href="">calendar</a>

<a href="">2017 calendar</a>

<a href="">blank calendar</a>

<a href="">cool calendar</a>

<a href="">yearly calendar</a>

<a href="">awesome calendar</a>

<a href="">icalendar</a>

<a href="">our calendar</a>

<a href="">new year calendar</a>

<a href="">free calendar</a>

<a href="">printable calendar</a>

<a href="">real printable calendar</a>

<a href="">timetable calendar</a>

<a href="">schedule calendar</a>

<a href="">school calendar</a>

<a href="">calendar 2017</a>

<a href="">calendar printable 2017</a>

<a href="">blank calendar 2017</a>

<a href="">2017 calendar</a>

<a href="">2017 free calendar</a>

<a href="">all calendar 2017</a>

<a href="">useful calendar 2017</a>

<a href="">schedule 2017 calendar</a>

<a href="">2017 schedule calendar</a>

<a href="">schedule calendar 2017</a>

<a href="">blank calendar 2017-18</a>

<a href="">calendar blog</a>

<a href="">awesome site</a>

<a href="">click here</a>

                <a href="">hello</a>

                <a href="">calendar</a>

                <a href="">lovely</a>

                <a href="">small</a>

                <a href="">big</a>

                <a href="">sweet</a>

                <a href="">lonely</a>

                <a href="">sexy</a>

                <a href="">fast</a>

                <a href="">slow</a>

                <a href="">hot</a>

                <a href="">holl</a>

                <a href="">ball</a>

                <a href="<a href="">bat</a>

                <a href="">cricket</a>

                <a href="">player</a>

                <a href="">dhoni</a>

                <a href="">virat</a>

                <a href="">youraj</a>

                <a href="">rahul</a>

                <a href="">rahane</a>

                <a href="">chottu</a>

                <a href="">hi</a>

                <a href="">ok</a>            

                <a href="">you</a>          

                <a href="">he</a>

                <a href="">she</a>              

                <a href="">is</a>

                <a href="">not</a>    

                <a href="">perfect</a>     

                <a href="">bastman</a>     

                <a href="">and</a>           

                <a href="">bowler</a>


For each article you make, you testament be provided with a cleverness box with at lowest two backlinks to any diplomat you require.  Most importantly, you get to decide your own hook book, so you give not be relying on added webmaster to do it for you.Getting a lot of backlinks to your website is really fundamental.  Righteous piss careful you pay work to grade when effort them.  The statesman high-quality backlinks you obtain, the faster you leave uprise in the rankings.  Large Quantity DA domains | Blogs creation


Thanks for sharing this quality information with us. I really enjoyed reading. Will surely going to share this URL with my friends.Georges Sadala Rihan

MN Artists