Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Agnes Martin at the Tate Modern – 3rd June to 11th October 2015

Exhibition Review : Agnes Martin at the Tate Modern – 3rd June to 11th October 2015


Tate Modern presents the first comprehensive survey of the artist Agnes Martin. Martin was renowned for her subtle, evocative canvases marked out in pencil grids and pale colour washes. The exhibition covers the full breadth of her work, reflecting on her position as a key figure in the field of American abstraction

Agnes Martin was born in 1912 in Saskatchewan, Canada, However it was in the United States where Martin established her career as an artist.  In the 1950s, she studied and taught in New Mexico and resided for a while in New York  living in the Coenties Slip neighbourhood alongside fellow artists Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Lenore Tawney.


In this early stage of her artistic career she  experimented in different media and formats with  geometric shapes, before she began making her  pencilled grids on large, square canvases which would become her hallmark.Tate Modern brings together seminal examples of these works from the 1960s such as Friendship 1963, a gold leaf covered canvas incised with Martin’s emblematic fine grid.


Martin left the New York art scene in 1967, in search of solitude and silence, she travelled across the US and Canada for almost two years before finally settling in New Mexico where she lived for the rest of her life.


Martin often suffered from mental illness and her search in the 1960s and 1970s was for a style that helped her find peace both spiritually and personally. She found this style with  her  pencilled grids on large, square canvases. Her  paintings  were often finished in monochrome or colour washes in combinations of pale blue, red and yellow.


In the late 1970s, the pastels were replaced by shades of grey in a series of paintings. In 1979 she created a series of 12 identical large square in white acrylic called the Islands which many felt was her purist response to her  interest in East Asian philosophy and spirituality.


Martin continued to paint until she died in 2004, her only concession to old age was she worked on slightly smaller canvases.  The exhibition  features a group of Martin’s final works brought together from private collections including Untitled #1 2003 which reintroduce the bold geometric forms she had experimented with in her early career.


Agnes Martin has a number of similarities to contemporary Richard Diebenkorn who recently featured at a Royal Academy exhibition. Both pursued their own form of abstract expressionism which was influenced by living in the New Mexico area, indeed it is highly likely they were aware of each others work from the 1950s. Both of the artists were happy to pursue their art away from the glare of celebrity and carry out their particular creative mission.

However Agnes Martin’s own mission was following a more spiritual and personal path, she often compared her painting to music which should be enjoyed emotionally with the minimum of intellectual conversation getting in the way. Her paintings need the viewer to slow down and really look intensely at the painting to gain its greater effect. The grids are often part of a substructure of the painting that create their own landscapes.

This intriguing and challenging exhibition introduces the work of Agnes Martin to a wider audience who can consider her position as a key figure in the field of American abstraction.  The artist’s meticulous attention to detail and her pervasive grid system will  provide plenty of interest for those who wish to discover it.

 Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website  here

Agnes Martin
3 June – 11 October 2015
Tate Modern

Open daily from 10.00 – 18.00 and until 22.00 on Friday and Saturday
Admission £10.90 (£9.50 concession) or £12 (£10.50 concession) with Gift Aid donation

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