The most comprehensive collection of Agnes Martins’ works are now on view at The Guggenheim for the first time after her death in 2004. Last week at the press preview, we were entranced with the minimalist paintings and drawings the minute we walked into arguably one of the most beautiful museums in the East Coast. The senior curator for the exhibition, Tracey Bashkoff, said a few words at the beginning, emphasizing Agnes Martin’s belief in the transformative powers of art, and the displays most definitely lived up to the praise. We fell in love with the newest exhibition at the Guggenheim, so we’re giving you five reasons to go check it out.
1.The simple and elegant curation
Anyone who’s been to the Guggenheim can agree that the ramp leading up to a massive skylight is an artwork itself, so there is no need for embellishment. With that said, the Agnes Martin exhibition is set up in a simple, path-like way where the spectator can follow the progress of her work in a timeline manner as they ascend the main gallery! The organization of the artwork paired with small quotes from the artist makes for a very smooth transition through her life’s work.
2. The pulsing energy of Martin’s simple abstract forms
Agnes Martin spent decades exploring and developing her simple but effervescent forms. Through the exhibition, we see how she constructed and deconstructed line and shape, and how she transitioned from biomorphic forms to geometric forms and eventually to no forms at all. As she said herself, “My paintings have neither object nor space nor line nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form”. We see that right off the bat with her work The Islands I-XII (1979), as they seem like twelve plain white canvases from a distance, but their soft light draws you in closer to observe and contemplate the small variations in penciled line.
3. Motif of positivity and happiness
As said before, Martin believed in the transformative powers of art, and more importantly, in its ability to inspire “abstract emotions,” a term that she coined to represent feelings of happiness, love, freedom, and other positive emotions. Even her “black paintings” (as she informally referred to) were about happiness, despite their gloomy appearance. But through the placid surfaces of her abstractions, she was able to inspire a calm silence that she probably felt herself while meditating; a practice that she combined with her studies in Asian philosophy. Depth and form are subdued as Martin’s ideal and her intentions shine through.
4. A woman with a solo exhibition
We’ve all read the stats about the low percentage of women that have solo exhibitions at museums, so we were very excited to hear the work of Martin was going to be on view at the Guggenheim. Martin was one of the few female artists who gained recognition in the male-dominated art world of the 1950s and 60s and continues to do so. According to Tracey Bashkoff, “Martin is a pivotal figure between two of that era’s dominant movements: Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Her content—an expression of essential emotions—relates her to the earlier group, the Abstract Expressionists, but her methods—repetition, geometric compositions, and basic means—were adopted by the Minimalists, who came to prominence during the ’60s. Martin’s work, however, is more than a bridge between the two.”
5. The Guggenheim App
In the age of technology, the Guggenheim found a way to extend its borders. By downloading the Guggenheim app, you not only have access to information about more than 1,600 works from the museum’s collection but also to exclusive audio, videos, and photos from select exhibitions. You can save and share your favorite works and have The Guggenheim’s weekly calendar with program details so you’ll never miss another exihibition.
Agnes Martin is organized by Tate Modern, London, in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Top image // Agnes Martin, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 7, 2016– January 11, 2017, David Heald