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Art Journal Fall, 1998 Profiles: Agnes Martin by Holland Cotter Agnes Martin is a legend in American art.

The spare abstract paintings she has produced over the past forty years - graphite lines drawn across white, gray, or delicately colored canvases - are as little-changing as icons. Her published observations on art and life are written in a style both oracular and Shaker-plain. Her long residence in ew Me!ico, in a house she built with her own hands on a remote mesa, has placed her, for many, in the august but eccentric company of the "nited States#s isolated artists - $inslow Homer on the coast of Maine, Albert %inkham &yder in his Manhattan apartment - who choose to stay far removed from the mainstream. Martin, who turned eighty-si! this year, moved to Taos a few years ago, where she lives in a retirement community. '(t#s perfect for me,' she says on the phone in her clear, high-pitched voice. '( don#t have to think about anything but painting.' %ainting is the center of her life, and she approaches it with an artisan#s industry and discipline. Her daily routine seldom varies. She rises early and drives herself the half-mile to her studio. There she works steadily from )*+, to --*+,. .y noon, she#s at lunch in a favorite restaurant. She spends afternoons reading at home. She#s usually in bed by /. Martin has made a few concessions to age. She no longer stretches her own canvases, and she has reduced the si0e of her paintings from /-by-/ feet to 1-by-1 so that she can continue to move them herself. .ut she insists on working alone. '( can#t imagine having a studio assistant. ( don#t know what they#d do.' 2onstancy and habit are as crucial to Martin#s art as they are to her daily life. Her paintings of the past twenty-five years are all made in e!actly the same way. She prepares her surfaces with two coats of gesso. 'That#s all. Any more would take the tooth out of the canvas.' Then, using a straplike measuring tape for a guide, she draws the hori0ontal lines, varying only the intervals between them from painting to painting. An application of acrylic paint, thinned to a wash with

water, comes ne!t 3'( stopped using oils in -4/5 because they took three days to dry'6, leaving the faint but distinct trace of brushstrokes on the surfaces. Her colors vary from series to series. A group of new paintings she showed at %ace$ildenstein in ew 7ork last year were in alternating bands of pale blue and yellow, which tended to merge optically to a luminous, fresh-rinsed green. Asked why she chose those colors, Martin gives an answer she has given almost verbatim many times before* '( say to my mind, #$hat am ( going to paint ne!t8# Then ( wait for the inspiration. The painting comes into my mind, and ( can see it. 7ou have to wait if you#re going to be inspired. 7ou have to clear out your mind, to have a 9uiet and empty mind.' The very idea of inspiration carries an odd resonance today, when art is so often regarded as a product of social and political determinants. And Martin#s convictions about art#s function in the world seems to be channeled from a time when words like 'classical' and 'romantic' and 'ideal' carried real definitional weight. The goal of art, Martin says, is 'to make us aware of perfection in the mind. The :reeks knew that in the mind you can draw a perfect circle, but that you can#t really draw a perfect circle. ;veryone has a vision of perfection, don#t you think8 A housewife wants to have a perfect home.' Martin#s views are sometimes called visionary, but she insists she has nothing mystical in mind. $hen she says, ' othing in this world applies to my art. (t#s beyond the world. ( paint about happiness and innocence and beauty,' her words have a practical side. They are meant to deflect overly-literal readings of her paintings 3she scorns the often-made comparison to landscapes6 and reconfirm the conceptual elasticity of abstraction as a style. ;ven so, a sense of urgency is never far away. '(#m so an!ious to be non-ob<ective. ( didn#t like my early work, because it wasn#t abstract. ( kept asking what ne!t, what ne!t. (#d stop painting because ( was dissatisfied.'

The story of Martin#s early life, one of stops and starts, moving and settling down only to move again, has a restless, unstable rhythm. She was born in Maklin, Saskatchewan in -4-=, the daughter of a wheat farmer who died when she was two. Her parents were Scottish %resbyterians> her earliest books were the .ible and ?ohn .unyan#s The %ilgrim#s %rogress, which, she says, '(#ve read over and over.' '$hen ( was a child ( was completely independent. My mother wasn#t the worrying type. She renovated and resold old houses. ( drew with my older brother. The first picture ( bought was a print, the si0e of a big postcard. (t was The Angelus by Millet.' .efore becoming an artist, though, Martin set out on another career to support herself. '( studied to become a teacher because it was the easiest thing,' she laughs. 'And ( came to the "nited States to go to college because ( preferred the American form of education. (t promoted the development of the individual.' She became a ".S. citi0en in -41,. Martin studied at 2olumbia "niversity#s Teachers 2ollege and got her master#s degree in art education in -41=. .ut teaching, she says, 'is the worst thing you can do if you#re an artist. (t takes all the emotional energy. Sometimes (#ve preferred to wash dishes in a restaurant. obody tells you what to do. obody bothers you.' @uring the late -45,s and early -41,s, Martin became interested in Asian thought, which was en<oying a vogue in postwar America. She read the Aen scholar @. T. Su0uki and heard lectures by ?iddu Brishnamurti. She never practiced non-$estern spiritual disciplines, but she drew on their ideas. 'Cne thing ( like about Aen. (t doesn#t believe in achievement. ( don#t think the way to succeed is by doing something aggressive. Aggression is weak-minded.' .ut Asian philosophy is only one of many threads that run through Martin#s conversation and writing. There is also a strong infusion of ;mersonian transcendentalism 3his description of %lato - 'lover of limits, loved the illimitable' might apply to her6, and a touch of 2alvinist predestination. '( don#t believe in influence,' she says firmly, when asked about the relationship of her work to that of other artists. ';verybody grows up to be what they were born to be.'

.ut here again, the approach is pragmatic* being what you were born to be is at least in part a result of good luck and hard work, and when Martin says matter-of-factly, '( think life is a growing awareness of the truth,' she makes the process sound like a metaphysical version of continuing education, democratically available to all. 'The value of art is in the observer,' Martin states. '$hen you find out what you like, you#re really finding out about yourself. .eethoven#s music is <oyous. (f you like his music, you know that you like to be <oyful. %eople who look at my painting say that it makes them happy, like the feeling when you wake up in the morning. And happiness is the goal, isn#t it8' Some of Martin#s own happiest memories are of the -41,s. She was living in ew Me!ico when the art dealer .etty %arsons saw her paintings 3biomorphic abstractions at that time6 and offered to represent her, on the condition that she move back to ew 7ork to live. (n -41D, Martin did so, settling near the seaport in lower Manhattan. '( had an old sailmaker#s loft with two skylights. The building looked out on the river and was so old that it was against the law to live in it. ( had to put in my own plumbing and it was cold in the winter. ( could see daylight at the end of the beams under my roof.' The streets were crowded during the day, she recalls. '.ut after 1*+,, it was silent.' .y -4/D, Martin#s career had taken off, but, depressed and about to lose her home to urban renewal, she abruptly gave away her belongings and fled ew 7ork. A period of intense psychic discomfort followed. She wandered across the "nited States and 2anada in a pickup truck for over a year, and stopped working. 3She didn#t paint again for seven years.6 Einally, she found her way back to ew Me!ico, where she built her house on a remote mesa and kept to herself. The turbulence gradually subsided, in part through her return to art, and she began to make what she considers her first fully abstract paintings. '(t took me

twenty years to get beyond nature,' is how she puts it. (n that statement one may read many things. 2ertainly Martin#s paintings after -4D5 eliminate references to the natural world. .ut they also position themselves, she suggests, beyond human nature, or at least its emotional pains and confusions. 3'%assion is only one emotion,' Martin says dismissively. 'And not a very interesting one.'6 The result is art that is as much a stay against personal chaos as it is a paean to spiritual optimism. Many years ago Martin wrote* '(n my best moments ( think, #Fife has passed me by,# and ( am content.' She was asked recently if she still feels that way. '$ell, ( feel life is passing. (#ve always been alone and painting, and ( still live alone. .ut ( don#t think life has passed me by.' She continues with words that carry some of the 9uietly vibrant energy of the pencil lines tracing their way across her paintings* intimate but impersonal, and, for those of us who have drawn <oy from her work for years, very moving. '(#ve made a painting called %raise of Fife. (t#s a most wonderful gift, life. 7ou make fifty responses in every minute and every minute is different from every other minute. ( once taught art to adults in a night course. ( had a woman who painted her back yard, and she said it was the first time she had ever really looked at it. ( think everyone sees beauty. Art is a way to respond.' Five Essential Te ts !n Mini"alis"#Post"ini"alis" by $ani%a &illard -. Michael Eried, 'Art and Cb<ecthood,' -4/D (n GArt and Cb<ecthood,H Michael Eried seeks to distinguish between the modernist tradition of art, and emerging practices of sculpture by artists like 2aro, Smith and Morris. He focuses on two ma<or distinctions, the first being the inherent theatricality and sub<ectivity of these works, and second, how this GliteralistH art ceases to be simply art, but moves into a nebulous realm he defines as Gob<ecthood,H or the state of being simply an ob<ect. =. Thierry de @uve, 'The Monochrome and the .lank 2anvas' in Bant After @uchamp, -44/

Thierry @e@uve, in the chapter GThe Monochrome and the .lank 2anvasH from his book Kant After Duchamp, disentangles the crisis that the idea of the blank canvas caused in modernist art. Specifically, he looks beyond the writings of :reenberg and ?udd to @uchamp and the readymade as being the point at which the blank canvas was ideated. @e@uve sees this critical rupture as allowing art to move beyond the specificity of the medium 3painting in particular6 to the generic, and thus, allowing aesthetic <udgment across media to decide whether art is good. +. &osalind Brauss, 'Sense and Sensibility* &eflections on %ost #/,s Sculpture,' appeared in Artforum ovember -4D+. (n this article, GSense and Sensibility,H &osalind Brauss e!plores both how postminimalist sculpture operates as a separate, conceptual shift from the tenets of minimalism, and, contradictorily, how in many ways the two movements share art historical and theoretical connections. 5. .en<amin H. @. .uchloh, '2onceptual Art -4/=--4/4* Erom the Aesthetic of Administration to the 2riti9ue of (nstitutions' appeared in Cctober, winter -44, (n the article, G2onceptual Art -4/=--4/4,H .en<amin .uchloh attempts to map and historici0e different avenues conceptual art took in the -4/,s within a greater conte!t of minimalism, aesthetics discourse, and the changing perception of the role of the institution in relation to art. He sees conceptual art as providing the most radical upset of the conventions and paradigms of painting and sculpture in the postwar period. An upset that .uchloh concludes was the Glast of the erosionsH that the realm of artistic production had been sub<ected in its efforts to rival ruling systems of knowledge within the frame of art itself. 1. 7ves-Alain .ois and &osalind Brauss, 'A "ser#s :uide to ;ntropy' appeared in Cctober, fall -44/ 7ve-Alain .ois and &osalind Brauss, in GA "serIs :uide to ;ntropy,H map the ways in which different artists in the -4/,s and D,s are engaging with the idea of entropy, based on SmithsonIs definition, in their work. They seem to be arguing for using the language of entropy as a means for framing an analysis of work from various artists, including :ordon Matta 2lark and ;dward &uscha, this period. http*JJwww.artandculture.comJfeatureJ1=/

Art of (nvisibility The Clear, Moving Work of Agnes Martin By Jeffrey Lee Kfrom an article originally published in -44)L eeklyW!"#, August +rd,

$ords about visual art are always beside the point, and it#s especially hard to say anything about art that is as drastically reduced as Agnes Martin#s. How is it that Martin, with her evenly spaced hori0ontal and vertical lines and her hushed palette, has produced a body of work that is so moving8 ... The Taos artist#s grids, some of them traced in lines of graphite so faint they seem to be emerging from or disappearing into a mist, prompted icolas 2alas to call Martin#s an 'art of invisibility.' (t#s tempting to read a 'beyond' into them> the surface holds so few clues, so little to go on, really. Martin#s own statements about what she does tend to verge on the mystical> but whatever they do for the soul, it would be a mistake to let their mystical suggestiveness overshadow what they are, first and foremost* gorgeous, uncompromising challenges to the eye. 7ou could mistake Martin, who was honored with a Whitney retrospective in -44= and a :olden Fion at last year#s Menice .iennale, for a Minimalist. .ut the hard, machine-edged lines of Minimalism are worlds apart from her precisely repeated, subtly varied lines, each of which shows the human presence of her hand. The occasional, but deliberate, breaks and wobbles--only one or two in each drawing, usually tiny and easy to miss--are crucial to an Agnes Martin composition. $hen she writes about her work, the artist uses words like '<oy' and 'perfection,' but the geometric purity it aspires to is a %latonic ideal, imperfectly translated to canvas or paper. $ith its purposeful 'flaws,' the 9uiet, <oyful space between real and ideal is e!actly what Martin#s work celebrates. More than anything, Agnes Martin#s works on paper narrow and focus the eye#s attention. 7ou have to stand close to them. 7ou have to 'read' every line. They demand intimacy and a kind of commitment. .ut what they give back, in their simplicity and richness, is indescribably moving. - Jeffrey Lee 'My interest is in e!perience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this e!perience can be e!pressed for me in art which is also wordless and silent.' $ithout ob<ects or forms, Agnes Martin suggested we approach her paintings #as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.# Cften linked to Minimalism, she maintained that her paintings are concerned with the inner emotional world - our search for a perfection which is impossible to achieve - and the desire for contentment and serenity.

The paintings in this e!hibition are from her later years when bands of ethereal colour combined with the irregularities of handdrawn grids. #The paintings are very far from perfect - completely removed in fact - even as we ourselves are.#

"I'm not trying to describe anything. I'm looking for a perfect space." -Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond The Menil Collection, ebr!ary ", #$$# May #%, #$$# The first &!estion 'ith Agnes Martin is, are yo! a belie(er, or a dissenter) *ike Cy T'ombly, another Menil fa(orite on 'hom opinions are sharply split, there are those 'ho belie(e that Martin's delicate, s!nshiny stripes resonate 'ith mystical potency, and there are those 'ho don't care, and resent the clo!ds of ne'-agey pretension 'hich obsc!re e(en the simplest disc!ssion of the 'ork. I'm both. rom ten feet a'ay, it's Martha +te'art minimalism: antimasc!line, decorati(e, tastef!l. ,ashy bars in cornflo'er, salmon, and b!tterc!p di(ide her 'hite s&!ares, making pretty s!nrises and seascapes, or fabric s'atches from beach !mbrellas. At three feet, they ha(e a h!mble frankness: matter-of-fact pencil lines o(erlap 'here the yardstick ended, colored 'ashes are applied 'ith 'orkmanlike br!shstrokes. A fe' stray hairs, specks and knobbly can(as imperfections are nat!ral e(ents that are neither hidden nor glorified. In tr!e -en style, transcendence m!st come thro!gh m!ndane means. .e/t to the 0othko chapel and the T'ombly ma!sole!m, Martin's 'orks seem anti-heroic. Moderate in scale, they're big eno!gh for atmosphere b!t free of bombast. The chapel's spirit!al (oid is dark and hea(y, Martin's light and airy. ,here T'ombly's paintings e(oke the dramatic (!lnerability of tragedy and loss, Martin sho's !s the peacef!l strength of end!rance and resol!tion. It's tempting to say one's masc!line and one's feminine1 one's all abo!t death and the other abo!t life, b!t that's o(ersimplifying it. 2!t those 3a'-sagging, treacly titles4 I Love Life, Lovely Life, Beautiful Life, Love and Goodness, and the topper: I Love the Whole World. 5nly the battiest of old desert ladies, or the most (icio!sly cynical grad st!dent, or the most (icio!sly cynical batty old desert lady co!ld ha(e come !p 'ith those. Impressi(e. That those titles are st!ck to some of the most mechanical 'ork in the sho', paintings 'ith bands of monochrome, parallel stripes, is do!bly tricky. 6espite its hardcore abstraction, Martin's is an art of place: she ga(e !p the harsh, gr!bby pencil grids of .e' 7ork for the pastel hori8ontality of the 'est. Most of the named collections from 'hich the sho' 'as borro'ed are in the +o!th'est, and it's easy to imagine

o'ning t'o: one for the +anta Monica beach ho!se, another for Aspen. 6espite a s!perficial sameness, Martin 'rings a s!rprising range of feelings and associations from a (ery limited (ocab!lary. Cool or 'arm, flat or spatial, opa&!e or transparent, floating or resting, her bars are sometimes mechanical, as in Love and Goodness, sometimes softly atmospheric as in Untitled #11. It's an art of s!btleties: ho' many bars, ho' 'ide, in 'hat order) Martin's paintings do 'hat minimalism does best: making imperceptible s!btleties delicio!sly ob(io!s. Tho!gh art is not a religion, nor is good taste a moral (irt!e, Martin's monastic dedication to her inscr!table stripes comes close. - 2ill 6a(enport

Beautiful Life, #$$$, acrylic and graphite on can(as, 9' / 9'

Untitled #11, "::;, acrylic and graphite on can(as, 9' / 9'

Love and Goodness, #$$$, acrylic and graphite on can(as, 9' / 9'

$ood, 3-4/56. (nk on paper, -, DJ) ! -, DJ)' 3=D.D ! =D.D cm6

Foving love, acrylic and graphite on canvas, /,.1 ! /,.= in.J-1+.D ! -1+ cm.

On a Clear Day, 1973, Set of 30 prints, Each sheet: 12 x 12 inches

A Quote by Agnes Martin on jackson pollock, ecstasy, painting, and art in art Pollock was terrific. I think he freed himself of all kinds of worry about this world. Ran around and dripped, and then he managed to e press ecstasy. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on painting, art, and perfection in art !ou can"t make a perfect painting. #e can see perfection in our minds. $ut we can"t make a perfect painting. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on art, nature, and painting in art %here"s nobody li&ing who couldn"t stand all afternoon in front of a waterfall .... Anyone who can sit on a stone in a field awhile can see my painting. 'ature is like parting a curtain, you go into it .... as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on feelings, art, music, happiness, abstract, and e pression in abstract art

It"s not about facts, it"s about feelings. It"s about remembering feelings and happiness. A definition of art is that it makes concrete our most subtle emotions. I think the highest form of art is music. It"s the most abstract of all art e pression. A Quote by Agnes Martin on painting, art, and perfection in art I hope I ha&e made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are &ery far from being perfect ( completely remo&ed in fact ( e&en as we oursel&es are. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on happiness in )appiness #hat we really want to do is ser&e happiness. #e want e&eryone to be happy, ne&er unhappy e&en for a moment. #e want the animals to be happy. %he happiness of e&ery li&ing thing is what we want. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on art, beauty, mystery, mind, and perfection in art #hen I think of art I think of beauty. $eauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on mind, beauty, mystery, perfection, and transcendence in beauty I think our minds respond to things beyond this world. %ake beauty* it"s a &ery mysterious thing, isn"t it+ I think it"s a response in our minds to perfection. It"s too bad, people not reali,ing that their minds e pand beyond this world. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on art and painting in art My paintings are certainly nonobjecti&e. %hey"re just hori,ontal lines. %here"s not any hint of nature. And still e&erybody responds, I think. Agnes Martin A Quote by Agnes Martin on transcendence, beauty, and art in art

#hat I say is that we"re capable of a transcendent response, and I think it makes us happpy. And I do think beauty produces a transcendent response. Agnes Martin