Agnes Martin, an artist from Vancouver, Saskatchewan, and New Mexico, spent forty years of her long life painting peaceful mathematical abstracts and restrained landscapes. She believed that art could bring “abstract emotions” to the surface of both the creator and the consumer—positive emotions like happiness, innocence, and love, as well as the emotional experiences of freedom, beauty, and perfection.
Her work varies from nearly invisible compositions of faint pencil lines on large canvases, to bold, small geometric prints, to sparse views of the New Mexico landscapes where she first grew as an artist.
In the 1950s and ’60s when she was at her peak, she was a rarity in the male-dominated realms of both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Her work was criticized as being too simple, too optimistic, even though that was the aspect of her work she was most proud of.
Her work has been displayed a few times since her passing in 2004, but never in as great a number until now. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is currently displaying over 100 of Martin’s sketches, paintings, and drawings in the Museum’s rotunda. The white architectural space with its spare, flowing lines is perfectly suited to her delicate art.
Viewers walk slowly up the spiraling ramps, passing each piece set in white alcoves to be appreciated on their own. They can be viewed in passing as a sort of evolution, or taken one at a time, to be examined and absorbed. The final painting is right under the great round skylight, meaning the viewer reaches the peak of the space and the peak of Martin’s career in one.
This collection, titled simply “Agnes Martin,” was organized by Tate Modern of London and supported by dozens of donors (both public and anonymous) and a grant from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.