Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim

Posted by Caroline Gohlke on

Ascending up the spiral ramp of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed building referred to as the “temple of the spirit” one encounters the subtle beauty of a selection of Agnes Martin’s body of work from the 60s till her death in 2004.  
The show begins in the mid 1950s where the work takes on abstract shapes representing landscapes, the use of muted colors and loose brush strokes. Although she claims she disliked the work from this time period, they steered her into the realm of formlessness and her interest in Zen meditation.  
Untitled, 1957 , oil on gypsum board

 Untitled, 1959, oil on canvas




Untitled, 1959, oil and graphite on canvas 


Martin came to New York in the late 50s where she moved into a loft on Coentries Slip. An area occupied with artists such as painter Ellsworth Kelly and fiber artist Lenore Tawney. These artists were working against the prominent Abstract Expressionists and moving towards using everyday material and technique.


Dominos, 1960, oil on paper , mounted on canvas


During this time Martin experimented with found objects, all over pattern making, and the beginnings of her influential grid and bands of horizontal color.

By the mid 60s Martin predominately used a large square as her canvas and used the grid to represent a universal state of mind.   “My paintings are not about what is seen”…. “They are about what is known forever in the mind” She associated the grid with innocence and humility and began to title her work with things representing nature. She became heavily influenced by the Taoist interest in balance and harmony.


 The Islands, 1961, oil and graphite on canvas


 Grass detail, 1967, acrylic and graphite on canvas


In 1967 Martin left New York and traveled the United States for a year and a half finally residing back in New Mexico where she built a home and studio.  She continued to make work again in 1972 using seriality and the use horizontal and vertical painted lines. "The Islands" (not pictured due to the difficulty in capturing) is a group of twelve paintings made during this time which are all white with varying degrees of faint colors and shifting lines.  Meditating on these paintings the foregrounds and backgrounds come forward and recede like an ocean tide.  



Untitled #12, acrylic and graphite on canvas 


The Sea, 2003


After 1974 and the last few decades of her life Martin shifted her approach to be about art itself.  Her practice become representative of her quest for serenity and egolessness.


 Untitled, 2004, oil on canvas



Homage to Life, 2003


The Agnes Martin exhibit is on view from October 7, 2016 - January 11, 2017 in New York.