born of abstract expressionism yet also minimalism at is most delicate – refreshing still to this day. m.
“I’m not a woman,” the American painter Agnes Martin (1912–2004) famously remarked in an interview with her friend Jill Johnston, the radical cultural critic for the Village Voice and author of Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution. Martin’s quip was both a succinct expression of the misogynistic art world she’d entered into and characteristic of her evasive personality. Though the large-scale square grids and striped canvases she’s best known for sooner recall those of the Minimalist Sol LeWitt than any Abstract Expressionist, she thought of her work as belonging to the latter group. She disliked talking about her paintings and methods, was resistant to theorizing about art, and strongly opposed the idea of ego and pride fueling an artist’s motivations. She was also a diagnosed schizophrenic and was hospitalized on more than one occasion.
Yet little of these frictions are evident in the serene but challenging 11-room retrospective of Martin’s work now on view at Tate Modern in London, which will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The show traces the evolution of her work, a trajectory shaped by Martin’s passage from city to desert, represented in a shift from the artist’s tight pencil grids to her wide horizontal and vertical bands of bleached-out, translucent washes of color.