May 17, 2015


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Lot 197: Agnes Martin

Lot 197: Agnes Martin


Watercolor, graphite, and ink on paper
Signed and dated in graphite "a martin '77" lower right sheet; inscribed "Top Top" upper center sheet; retains The Pace Gallery, Margo Leavin Gallery, and Charlotte Jackson Fine Art labels verso
Sheet: 12" x 12"; Frame: 15.375" x 15.25"

This work will be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonné to be published digitally by Artifex Press.
Provenance: The Pace Gallery, New York, New York (acquired directly from the artist, March 1978);
Irving Galleries of Fine Art, Palm Beach, Florida (acquired directly from the above, November 1983);
Private Collection, United States
Exhibited: "Agnes Martin: Recent Watercolors," Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, April 7-May 5, 1979; "Drawings, Watercolors and Prints by Contemporary Masters," group exhibition, Root Art Center, Hamilton College, Clinton, April 15-May 23, 1982
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000
Inventory Id: 19197

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Canadian-born Agnes Martin (1912–2004) was a major figure of 1950s and 1960s abstraction, known for her square-format works with all-over grid patterns, rendered in paint and graphite. Described as an artist who bridged Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, she exhibited an austere North American pragmatism, influenced by Protestantism. In a similar vein, her belief in the tenets of Zen Buddhism aligns with her oeuvre’s classical refrains. Martin’s paintings evoke ancient (Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese) ideals—simplicity and perfection, or a search for solitude. She said, “My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in artwork, which is also wordless and silent.”

The time after her first solo show in 1958 at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, marked increasing commercial and critical success for Martin, both national and international. But just as she was gaining acclaim, in 1967 the artist abandoned the New York art scene and painting in general. Martin traveled across the U.S. and Canada, and settled in New Mexico, where she had lived previously, to write. When she returned to painting some six years later, she refined her practice. Still subtle and meditative, her late 1970s paintings feature wide horizontal watercolor washes of pale blue, yellow, and light red, delicately defined by penciled lines. Their variations in color, opacity, and transparency evoke optical and textural allusions. They seemingly refer to the Southwestern landscape: like luminous, dissolving stretches of the desert horizon. The artist said these works “are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down forms.”

Martin joined New York’s Pace Gallery in 1975 (to this day she is one of their featured artists). Untitled( 1977), in watercolor, graphite, and ink on paper, has excellent gallery provenance. This lot retains Pace Gallery and Margo Leavin Gallery labels and will be offered on the market for the first time in decades. (A similar watercolor, also from 1977, is in the collection of the Guggenheim, New York. )

Since her first solo exhibition, Martin’s work has been the subject of more than 80 solo shows and two retrospectives. Early one-woman exhibitions were at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (1973); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1973); and the Hayward Gallery in London (1977). The retrospective Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1974–1990 was organized by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1991) and the Whitney Museum of American Art organized the survey Agnes Martin in 1992. In 1989 Martin was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Other honors include the Skowhegan Medal of Painting and Sculpture (1987), and the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale. In June 2015, Tate Modern, London will present the first retrospective of Agnes Martin since her death in 2004.

Brandauer, Aline. “Bearing Witness.” Agnes Martin: Works on Paper. Santa Fe: Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of New Mexico, 1998. 9. Print. Cooke, Lynne. “In the Classic Tradition.” Agnes Martin. Ed. Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly, and Barbara Schrader. New Haven, London: Yale UP, 2011. 11. Print.