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Agnes Martin: "...going forward into unknown territory..." Early Paintings 1957-1967

May 16, 2004–April 11, 2005, Dia Beacon


Featuring paintings from the ten years that Agnes Martin lived in New York, “ . . . going forward into unknown territory . . . ” was the first of a five-part retrospective of Marin’s work. The paintings on view in this exhibition display a transitional period in Martin’s work during the late 1950s, a formative period of experimentation, alongside her renowned grid works of the 1960s.

The paintings created in the first few years after Martin’s arrival in New York highlight her focus on returning to memories of nature, notably vast expanses of landscape and night skies. Inspired by her childhood in the Pacific Northwest as well as her time living in the deserts and high plains of New Mexico, the paintings employ simplified geometric shapes rendered in muted, translucent shades of pale earth hues—beiges, greys, greens, and creams.

By contrast, Martin’s work of the early 1960s shows her earliest uses of 6-foot square canvases, which became a signature format. Through the use of simple, persistent, yet apparently fragile geometry based on grids and planes, Martin sought to create works that could evoke abstract emotions, such as happiness, innocence, and exultation.

I would like my work to be recognized as being in the classical tradition (Coptic, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese), as representing the Ideal in the mind. Classical art cannot possibly be eclectic. One must see the ideal in one's own mind. It is like a memory-an awareness-of perfection.
—Agnes Martin

For almost forty years, Agnes Martin has variously responded to the question of where she feels she fits into the modernist pantheon. In contradistinction to most of her interviewers, who have tended to align her work of the early 1960s with the Minimalist art that emerged concurrently, she has sometimes claimed kinship with certain Abstract Expressionists—that is, with her own generation. Mostly, however, she proposes an alternative lineage, positioning herself in a classical tradition, alongside the ancients—the Egyptians, Greeks, Coptics, and Chinese.

In characteristically succinct, apodictic statements, she has repeatedly affirmed that "the function of art work is . . . the renewal of memories of moments of perfection."1 Classical art, "like memories . . . of perfection," for her evokes not subjective feelings but abstract emotions, most notably, those of happiness, innocence, and beauty. She believes that sensations experienced when contemplating the natural world—prairies, plains, deserts, the night sky, the ocean-can generate such emotions. The delicate tonalities of vast unbridled luminous expanses and boundless nocturnal depths, or their counterparts at a microscopic level—a leaf, a blossom, a bird in flight—have all provided inspiration. If occasionally vacillating regarding how, and even whether, her work relates to nature, she explained in her most definitive statement on this subject in 1993: "It's really about the feeling of beauty and freedom, that you experience in landscape. . . . My response to nature is really a response to beauty."2 Nevertheless, music—the most purely abstract of the arts in Martin's opinion—ultimately provides the closest analogy for understanding the blissful, egoless condition that characterizes the desired state, an "untroubled mind": "People are not aware of their abstract emotions, which are a big part of their lives, except when they listen to music or look at art."3 

Thus, by classical Martin means not a classical style but a classical attitude. That positioning readily embraces aspects of Buddhist and Zen thought, which she encountered on moving to New York in the late fifties, as well as vestiges of the Protestant traditions she imbibed growing up in the plains of rural Canada.4 But, most crucially, it was shaped by the lessons she drew from two Taoist sages, Lao Tse and, in particular, Chuang Tzu, who advised that rather than looking or listening to others one should be guided by one's own mind and soul.5 A defining construct in her singular aesthetic, classical has come to mean for her a realm of "transformation." According to Buddhist tenets, this is the mid-tier in a tripartite division of reality, separating the unchanging absolute from the changing everyday incidental world. In combining the universal and the particular, the classical consequently heralds the idea of perfection even within the commonplace.6 

In 1957 vanguard gallerist Betty Parsons offered to exhibit the unknown artist's work on the condition that Martin move to New York City. As she relocated to Coentis Slip in Lower Manhattan, she was catapulted into a gallery milieu, that had featured such luminaries as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and Barnett Newman, whose thinking and practices she soon absorbed. By her first exhibition in late 1958, she had forsaken her pale tonal biomorphic idiom of the mid-1950s. The most memorable of the exploratory works from the following year introduces a pared vocabulary of simple geometric shapes, symmetrically and frontally disposed in delicate fields of pale earth hues—greens, grays, beiges, and creams—built up from barely visible overlays of coolly impersonal brushstrokes. Their associative titles, elusive contemplative moods, and delicately atmospheric spaces (sometimes pastoral, sometimes cosmic) vestigially evoke the phenomenal world, conjuring allusions of rain suffusing a window and blurring a subtly toned hazy landscape beyond, or the faint glow of penumbral twilight stealing over a prairie in summer.7 In formative memories of landscape-based experiences, which she had rekindled in the forties and early fifties while living intermittently in the deserts and high plains of New Mexico, lay the origins for several series of these transitional paintings. Later she would destroy many works from this period, notably a small series of planar constructions made from found wood elements and a group of paintings composed of circles or triangles limned in a dark palette.

Increasingly she honed her formats to squares of two distinct sizes: small, intimate canvases of approximately a foot square and grander, bodily based ones, measuring six feet per side. Such contrasting dimensions permitted the exploration of both a close focus and an open-ended, unencumbered amplitude far exceeding the limits of the viewer's peripheral vision; either the eye assimilates the record of the work's making, the nuanced traces left by the hand moving repeatedly and systematically over the surface, or, alternatively, an almost visceral dissolution or immersion is sought.

By Martin's own account, her work reached its full maturity only after 1960, when she fused the larger dimension of the undefined planar expanse with a refined grid structure. Inlaid, incised, overlaid, or registered in negative, as an absence, the grid facilitated the creation of works she considered completely abstract. In her most compelling early oils, such as Window (1957), the rectilinear apertures provide a threshold, conflating the surface of the painting with what is beyond, causing an oscillating figure-ground reversal. Now the orthogonal grid or its close affiliate, a phalanx of tightly aligned horizontal bands, has become the vehicle for formlessness and form to cohere into resonant if unstable matrices. In the wide-ranging group of extraordinarily beautiful works from 1960–63 that includes White Flower (1960), The Islands (1960), Grey Stone II (1961), Milk River (1963), Night Sea (1963), andFlower in the Wind (1963), the square format holds in equilibrium otherwise unbalanced axial impulses, while the grid's slightly off- center placement, detached by the border from the frame's taut edges, activates the inner lattice. Floating, the grid is transformed into shadow, veil, or blur—a visual tremolo or a blush of refulgent color.

Martin created these delicate but vibrant works in a light airy studio close to the East River on Coentis Slip. Living and working downtown in a sparely refurbished loft, she found herself amid a group of emerging younger artists, several of whom were also affiliated with the Betty Parsons Gallery. Jack Youngerman, Ellsworth Kelly, Lenore Tawney, Robert Indiana, Robert Rosenquist, and Ann Wilson offered her a supportive coterie, while she provided a model of a disciplined life dedicated to an exacting practice. In fall 1961, Martin contributed a brief introduction to a brochure for a show of Tawney's textiles. Her earliest statement for publication, this text marks the only occasion on which she has written on the work of a fellow artist. "With directness and clarity, with what appears to be complete certainty of image . . . this work flows out without hesitation and with a consistent quality," she began. Conceding that it is "impossible to describe the range of expression in this work," she nevertheless claims that "it can be said that trembling and sensitive images are as though brought before our eyes even as we look at them; and also that deep, and sometimes dark and unrealized feelings are stirred in us." "There is an urgency that sweeps us up," she concludes, "an originality and success that holds us in wonder."8 

Something similar could be said of the highly innovative, resonant paintings Martin was executing at that critical juncture.9 They, too, solicit an interactive engagement. Hovering between a near-sighted scrutiny that is inevitably partial and a distanced scan that reduces the work to a mute blanched plane, the viewer inhabits a narrow zone. As she negotiates this optimal vantage point, the image seems to coalesce into a velum, a haze, or halation. Immanent and unbidden, these abstract configurations of parallel lines or rectilinear grids read as images rather than simply as form. This fugitive perceptual effect is less an illusion than an optical sensation, an effect best described in Martin's keen phrasing: "trembling and sensitive images are as though brought before our eyes even as we look." Since the images are not fixed nor are they figments, the spectator, suspended between passivity and total control, cannot completely master the situation. Central to this compelling yet understated affect is the viewer's sensual engagement with the material details of the surprisingly diverse formal repertoire Martin had evolved within a narrowed syntax: patterns composed of reticulated linear marks, skeins woven from repeated dashes and dots, razor-sharp incisions subdividing a matte plane, warm grounds contrasting with cool grids or the converse, and febrile graphite webs that pinion washy overlays so that they never quite become atmospheric. Minute fluctuations and irregularities in the thickness or density of the penciled and painted lines and in the steadiness of her hand further animate these works.

While Rothko's work and Newman's aesthetic as well as his personal support was influential to her during the late fifties, the impact of another well-established friend and advocate, Ad Reinhardt, was critical to the maturing of her work in the early sixties.10 Informed by a profound interest in Eastern art and mysticism, Reinhardt's practice was based in renunciations, first verbalized in the late 1950s, but only fully articulated in an ongoing series of black paintings begun in 1960. Employing a programmatic approach, a reductive formula infinitesimally varied, he dispensed a priori with most formal elements as he sought a purified art that challenged the very limits of apprehension, that was poised on the edge of the perceptible. On a five-foot-square canvas with a range of barely differentiated blacks, he created Ultimate Paintings, whose holistic fields incorporate almost invisible iconic images. They demand such acuity that the viewer's state of mind may literally be affected, as intense concentration devolves into contemplation or even meditation.

Abandoning oil paint in favor of acrylics in 1964-65, Martin produced a group of lyrical and limpid works shorn of sensual facture, including The Peach (1964), The Beach (1964), and The Harvest (1965). They demand an even more finely nuanced negotiation on the part of the observer— between an inspection intimate enough to reveal fragile traces of lines that catch only the more protuberant threads of the canvas weave, and an occlusion whereby the gently hovering ground, the delicately reverberating field, slips into inertia. Movement back and forth within the narrow compass of these exquisite paintings' borders adjudicates the constantly shifting relationships of the grid systems and axial trajectories, as the linear scaffold imparts order and cohesion into otherwise diffusing immaterial expanses. Once the grid extends to the edges of the canvas, it impacts on the field, as Lawrence Alloway notes, "making a single undifferentiated tremor of form, or a plateau of non-form."11 While Reinhardt's black paintings demand slow, stable concentration and Newman's monumental paintings require a more kinesthetic navigation and aspectual diversity, Martin's works at mid-decade elicit a lively poised attentiveness, keenly alert to their quickening tension. Stimulated by their subdued radiance, prolonged perception often engenders an indeterminate sense of lightness.12 

Though she shares with Reinhardt a scrupulous rectitude, an interest in Eastern thought, and a fascination with the high art of past cultures, Martin nonetheless has relied more on intuition—or inspiration—for the genesis of her works; and though she has stated she sees the painting in her mind's eye before she commences work on it, her visions are far less programmatic than his. More importantly, her commitment to invoking emotions such as happiness, innocence, and beauty diverges from her colleague's commitment to a "dark" vision, to painting "the last painting." She consequently emphasizes a kinship with the transcendental revelatory visions proposed by certain Abstract Expressionists: with Rothko and Newman, whose art she considers premised in joy, and with Pollock, whose work she celebrates for its "complete freedom and acceptance."13 

Newman had provided timely support for Martin when she was a newcomer to the Parsons Gallery, but it was Reinhardt who in the mid-1960s encouraged cutting-edge gallerist Virginia Dwan to see his friend's work. On his recommendation, Martin was included in the landmark show "Ten" at the Dwan Gallery, curated by Robert Smithson in 1966. This authoritative, early presentation of Minimalism included works by Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Jo Baer, Robert Morris, and Michael Steiner, in addition to Smithson's own contribution and those of Reinhardt and Martin. Certain morphological likenesses and formal affinities based in the use of a grid or related graphic structures link these artists' practices with Martin's, for example, the elusivity of LeWitt's wall drawings in graphite, the seriality of Judd's suite of plywood boxes, the modularity of Andre's floor sculptures composed of square metal plates, and even the linearity of the coordinates determining Smithson's Nonsites. There are, nonetheless, crucial differences: their works are grounded in intellection, hers in inspiration; their metaphysics are fundamentally materialist, hers idealist. Yet, irrespective of whether these aesthetic relationships are ultimately judged more substantive than superficial, Martin herself considered this a sympathetic milieu for her work. For, even though they were not preoccupied with such emotional states as exaltation, praise, and happiness, the Minimalists were part of what she recognized as the classical tradition.14 Critical to this receptive repositioning was the fact that by 1966 Martin had further pared her means, as a comparison of The Harvest with The Cliff (1967) demonstrates.

In the eighteen months before she stopped painting in the summer of 1967, Martin concentrated on off-white grounds and precisely, almost sharply, drawn grids with larger interstices, stretching edge to edge across fields more opaque than evanescent, and seemingly empty and endless. With their relatively few internal divisions and more prominent interiors, the grids in the boldest of these works assay the shimmering allover textures that characterized the previous group of paintings. These increasingly reductive new works repudiate any implication of containment and, with that, those sensations of flickering ethereal webs of small-scale elements reminiscent of Pointillism. Eschewing the effect of a uniform textual block, made by the allover reduplicative surface, these later paintings engage the grid less to delimit flatness—for the ground in and of itself is already depthless—and more to map the surface so that it seems legible and measurable. This application parallels systems and devices used elsewhere in abstract mensuration, in that by no longer conjuring an "image" the grids strip out vestigial references and "subversive equilibrium," to favor a more functional telos, an objective abstract system of linear coordinates that parse formlessness.15 

In contrast to a one-point perspectival system that, by instantiating a monocular vision, situates the viewer as lordly surveyor of that which lies before her, the orthogonal grid is not only boundless, nonhierarchical, infinitely extendable, and nonrelational, but is projected as if seen from no vantage at all. Tellingly, this denial of any vantage point appealed to Martin as a manifestation of egolessness. In addition, she believed it could "represent innocence."16 By the summer of 1967, she appears to have confined and refined the variability of her fastidiously limited syntax to near redundancy. The last painting she made before leaving the city, Tundra (1967), contains six rectangles, made from a single horizontal and two vertical lines limning a near-white ground. While she may not have been deliberately courting the "last painting" as did Reinhardt, she seems nonetheless to have sensed that she had reached a threshold, a point of arrest if not closure. "My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time not anything—no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form," she announced in 1966 in a statement that verges on the prescriptive over the descriptive.17 In its studied renunciation, it recalls Reinhardt's oracular pronouncements. While more applicable to the works of that moment than to any from earlier in the decade, it seems with the benefit of hindsight to foreshadow her approaching hiatus.

Within a week of Reinhardt's untimely death in the summer of 1967, the fifty-four-year-old Martin had given away her art supplies and tools and with few forewarnings to friends and colleagues left the city forever. Seeking solitude, she wandered over the next eighteen months through parts of Canada and the American West before settling on a remote mesa in New Mexico. More than four years passed before she resumed painting.

Martin's works in the years from 1957 to 1967 do not constitute a unified group as much as a visual journey with a chronology determined by biography and geography—by her sojourn at Coenties Slip, where her visionary aesthetic matured. Crystallizing in the late fifties, as she formulated a role for herself in a classical lineage, her singular worldview evolved somewhat in advance of her practice.18 As she rapidly devised the means first to realize her vision, then to explore and enrich it, she was inevitably shaped profoundly by the milieu in which it was produced and received. Through relationships with both her peers and younger contemporaries, her work gained breadth and relevance, insinuating itself almost seamlessly into current developments and debates.19 

The enthusiastic reception of Martin's works in the early 1960s cannot be wholly separated from the debates that attended nascent objective abstraction, which was soon codified under various rubrics, notably Optical, Systemic, and Hard-Edge painting and Minimalism. The critical reception that framed such movements, into which she was drawn partly through her participation in most of the decade's key shows, has produced a discursive field different from that which Martin has proffered for her work; at its best, this reading is grounded in a phenomenological response.20 

In 1973, as her first retrospective was being prepared, she emerged from her self-imposed retirement to survey this period of intense activity. Taking stock of her accomplishment, she made available for the first time a number of notes, comments, parables, and tales conceived as part of that same process. As she presented what is now considered the first phase in an oeuvre spanning more than four decades, she offered a series of poetic, gnomic, and oracular statements that could counter, as well as shape, the critical interpretation that, alongside public appreciation, would inevitably ensue.

Martin has continued to publish statements, lectures, inspirational homilies, and journal entries, as well as granting many interviews.21 Widely circulated, often independently of her art, they have made her something of a guru.22 As her moral and spiritual pursuit of an untroubled mind has gained public attention, the reception of her art has shifted, so that it has increasingly been situated in relation to the abstract sublime and the visual epiphanies and revelations incited by that artistic sensibility.23 Interpretations based on the artist's stated intentions defray consideration of her stature and significance within a modernist trajectory.24 This presentation of her works, recontextualized again among the works of many artists who were included in that landmark 1966 exhibition "Ten," once more provokes their critical evaluation.


1. Agnes Martin, in notes for the 1973 lecture "On the Perfection Underlying Life," Archives of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Quoted in Thomas McEvilley, "'Grey Geese Descending': The Art of Agnes Martin," Artforum 25, no. 10 (Summer 1987), p. 94.

2. Martin, interview by Irving Sandler, Art Monthly, no. 169 (September 1993), p. 4. For most critics, Martin's works of this period have what Lawrence Alloway felicitously describes as a "definite congruence to the artist's visual imagery," in contrast to the mostly untitled post-1974 works, which use a palette of pale blues, reds, yellows, and grays, and seem to emanate light rather than reflect it. (Alloway, "Agnes Martin," in Agnes Martin [Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1973], p. 10.)

3. Martin, interview by Irving Sandler, p. 3. Agnes Martin's "The Untroubled Mind" was published in Agnes Martin, pp. 17-24.

4. Martin was but one of many artists in New York in the late 1950s who responded to Eastern thought, often introduced by the lectures of D. T. Suzuki at Columbia University. Though she does not consider her work religious, spiritual, or mystical, biblical quotations frequently occur in her speech and writing. For the fullest exposition of the relation of her work to Eastern thought, see Thomas McEvilley, "'Grey Geese Descending,'" pp. 94-99.

5. See Marja Bloem, "An Awareness of Perfection," in Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1974-1990(Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1991), p. 32.

6. See Thomas McEvilley, "'Grey Geese Descending'," p. 99.

7. Among Martin's most perceptive early critics, Dore Ashton, who found her imagination impregnated not only with the wide-open spaces of the Canadian prairies but also with the sands of the New Mexico desert, attributed the allusion of rain running down a window to the artist herself. (Dore Ashton, "Premier Exhibition for Agnes Martin,"New York Times, December 6, 1958, p. 26.) See, also, Ashton's review "Art: Drawn From Nature," New York Times, December 29, 1959, p. 23, and, above all, her "Agnes Martin and . . . ," in Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1957-1975 (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1977), pp. 7-14.

8. Martin, introduction to Lenore Tawney (New York: Staten Island Museum, 1961). Published in conjunction with the exhibition "Lenore Tawney," November 19, 1961- January 7, 1962.

9. The question of mutual influence, or cross-fertilization between Tawney and Martin, has been remarked upon by another colleague from that circle, Ann Wilson, and judiciously analyzed by Barbara Haskell. See Haskell, "Agnes Martin: The Awareness of Perfection," in Agnes Martin, ed. Barbara Haskell (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992), p. 105. This connection has occasioned much discussion of her art in relation to weaving and textiles.

10. During the fifties, Barnett Newman installed Martin's shows, as he had many others, at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

11. Alloway, p. 9.

12. Noting—as have many critics—affinities with Tantric diagrams, Anna C. Chave argues that based in the formal qualities of Martin's work "viewers who are versed in any of the Eastern systems of meditation that have, by now, infiltrated Western society" experience a similar state of contemplation: "a fluid, pacific, and expansive state of concentration, or a kind of full emptiness." (Anna C. Chave, "Agnes Martin: 'Humility, the Beautiful Daughter. . . . All of Her Ways Are Empty,'" in Agnes Martin, ed. Haskell, p. 150.)

13. Martin has repeatedly stressed her admiration for these artists, finding Rothko, for example, the most advanced man who ever lived. (See Haskell, p. 116, n. 54.) For Pollock quote, see John Gruen, "Agnes Martin: 'Everything, everything is about feeling . . . feeling and recognition,'" Art News 75, no. 7 (September 1976), p. 94. Note, however, that like many Abstract Expressionists Martin disavows influence: "I don't believe in influence, myself," she stated in 1989, "I don't believe that anybody is influenced by anybody at any time. I think that we all live by inspiration, whether we pay attention to it or not." (Martin, quoted in El Palacio, Magazine of the Museum of New Mexico 95, no. 1 [Fall/Winter 1989], pp. 6-8. Quoted in Bloem, p. 36.)

14. See Sandler, p. 11.

15. The phrase "subversive equilibrium" was coined by Alloway. (Alloway, p. 12.) Fascinated by "the wide range of perceptible and measurable complexity in her structures," Douglas Crimp argues in a 1973 review surveying her work of the sixties, that it is "precisely because [the grids] are co-ordinate lines [that] they call to mind the construction of fictive spaces through the canvas surface developed by Alberti." Since "Martin's lines invert Alberti's perspective system by returning to the surface itself," her works must ultimately be "read," he contends, "in terms of number, measure and ratio." His interpretation, colored by the current context of Conceptual and post-Minimal practices dominant by the early seventies, is most persuasive when addressed to certain works of 1966-67. (Crimp, "Agnes Martin: numero, misura, rapporto," Data 3, no. 10 [Winter 1973], pp. 83-85.) Annette Michelson had earlier offered an important cautionary note: "one reaches for a tape measure, only to relinquish it, knowing that verification of that rationale will in no way account for the interest of the work." (Michelson, "Agnes Martin: Recent Paintings,"Artforum 5, no. 5 [January 1967], p. 46.) For a discussion of the role of abstract cartographies, see Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr., "From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance," Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays," ed. David Woodward (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 10-49.

16. Although the motif of the grid has been widely employed by artists in the postwar period, Martin's inspiration to introduce it into her work is singular: "When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then a grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision." (Martin, interview by Suzan Campbell, May 15, 1989, transcript, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., pp. 10-11. Quoted in Chave, p. 151, n. 1.) For discussion of the prevalence of the grid in artistic practice during the 1960s, see Lucy Lippard, "Top to bottom, left to right," inGrids grids grids grids grids grids grids grids (Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1972), pp. 5-14; John Elderfield, "Grids," Artforum 10, no. 9 (May 1972), pp. 52-59; and Krauss, "Grids," October 9 (Summer 1979), pp. 51-64, and reprinted in Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986), pp. 8-22.

17. Martin, quoted in Ann Wilson, "Linear Webs," Art and Artists 1, no. 7 (October 1966), p. 49. In 1963, Martin created a painting from gold leaf into which she inscribed a grid and titled Friendship.

18. See Martin, quoted in Bloem, p. 40. Her statement was included in the notes she deposited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, at the time of her retrospective in 1973. Others were extensively used in the catalogue accompanying that exhibition.

19. Comparison with the work and career of Alfred Jensen is telling. He too was a late-starter. Drawing on the ideas and example of his Abstract Expressionist peers, his work too only fully matured at the beginning of the 1960s and was first presented in the context of the burgeoning abstract movements of that decade. Jensen's heightened impastoed facture and numerically and geometrically based cosmologies aligned his art more with that of Conceptualism and Post-Minimalism in the eyes of contemporary critics.

20. Such responses range from Kim Levin's overwrought image of Martin as "the ascetic high priestess of Minimalist painting" (Levin, "Agnes Martin's Gridlock," Village Voice, December 10, 1980, p. 105) to Kasha Linville's uniquely insightful phenomenologically based account of Martin's work (Linville, "Agnes Martin: An Appreciation," Artforum 9, no. 10 [June 1971], pp. 72-73). In 1976 Rosalind Krauss and Marcia Tucker employed the term "Perceptual Field" to encompass this space of visual interaction between the painting and the viewer. A more telling comparison might be made with the perceptually grounded work made in the mid-sixties by such artists as Robert Irwin (whom Martin now admires) with his series of Disks (1967) and Bridget Riley, with her group of works that includes Static (1966),Deny 2 (1967), and Cataract 3 (1967). Among the decade's key shows in which Martin participated are "Black, White, and Grey," at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1964 (sometimes considered the first Minimalist show); "The Responsive Eye," at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1965; "Systemic Painting," at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1966 (devoted to various forms of Hard-Edge Abstraction); and "Art of the Real USA 1948-1968," at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1968.

21. The first museum catalogue devoted to Martin's work included extensive passages from her writings and interviews and so have most subsequent publications. In 1991 Dieter Schwarz edited Agnes Martin: Writings—Schriften (Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz, 1991), which accompanied a major survey of her works, "Agnes Martin: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1960-1989," Kunstmuseum Winterthur, January 19- March 15, 1992. Like Reinhardt's, Martin's succinct statements of belief are repeated, almost verbatim, again and again in interview after interview, as well as in lectures.

22. See Haskell, p. 117, n. 93.

23. See, for example, Carter Ratcliff, "Agnes Martin and the 'artificial infinite,'" in Art News 17, no. 5 (May 1973), pp. 26-27.

24. For the most considered attempt so far, see Rosalind Krauss, "The /Cloud/," in Agnes Martin, ed. Haskell, pp. 155-65. See also Krauss's telling distinction between centrifugal and centripetal manifestations of the grid in Krauss, "Grids."


Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin was born in Macklin, Canada, in 1912. She died in rural New Mexico in 2004.

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Agnes Martin

This important anthology brings together the most current scholarship on Agnes Martin's paintings by essayists considering the many facets of the artist's four-decade career.

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