Agnes Martin’s Exploration of Beauty and Hope

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“These paintings are about freedom from the cares of this world.”

So said Agnes Martin, a master of abstraction and minimalism who didn’t become an artist until the age of 30—who then blazed her own path, calmly and intently, and with no small amount of joy. A retrospective of her work is up for just a bit longer at the Guggenheim, which presents not only her definitive body of work, but her early experimentation as well.

Martin’s serene, meditative works are known for their tight, placid composition. Her grids and stripes are celebrated for their simplicity and restraint, but her work is equally lauded for its persistent focus. Martin spent countless hours contemplating the abstract nature of emotions and concepts–things such as happiness, innocence, and love–and let them inspire images in her mind.


Agnes Martin install. Photo by David Heald courtesy of the Guggenheim.

The Canadian born painter came late to her practice. Rather than bursting out onto the art scene, Martin started out slowly in the 1950s, composing biomorphic paintings. Realizing that she wanted to make a different kind of painting, Martin infamously stopped painting, so she could quietly rethink her approach. This prudence would later become the hallmark of her aesthetic.

In 1957, she moved to New York and joined a vibrant artistic scene. It was around then that she started working with simplified geometries. Throughout the ’60s, Martin gained more recognition for her work, and was identified as a key member of the abstraction and minimalism movements. Her paintings, meanwhile, seemed to increasingly become barely there, relying on subtlety and something close to invisibility.


Agnes Martin install. Photo by David Heald courtesy of the Guggenheim.

The works on view at the Guggenheim bring her life’s work squarely into frame. The exhibition calls on audience’s to see the works from afar—where they nearly blend in with the walls they’re hung on—but then to go up close. Martin’s work was simple, but it didn’t take a small amount of effort. Closer inspection reveals an arduous painting style, hinging on painstaking attention to pattern and color.

But rather than conveying struggle, they emit beauty and hope–the very stuff that Martin most valued.

Agnes Martin
Closes January 11, 2017
Solomon R. Guggenheim
1071 5th Ave, New York, NY 10128

Rob Goyanes

Rob Goyanes

Rob Goyanes is a writer from Miami, Florida, now living in New York City. He has work forthcoming in the Paris Review Daily and Interview Mag.