This summer Tate Modern will present the first retrospective of the seminal American painter Agnes Martin since her death in 2004. Martin was renowned for her subtle, evocative canvases marked out in pencil grids and pale colour washes. The exhibition will cover the full breadth of her practice, reasserting her position as a key figure in the traditionally male-dominated fields of 1950s and 1960s abstraction.
This internationally touring show will demonstrate Agnes Martin as one of the pre-eminent painters of the twentieth century and trace her career from early experiments to late work. Born in 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada, Martin established her career as an artist in New York, living in the Coenties Slip neighbourhood alongside fellow artists Ellsworth Kelly, James Rosenquist and Jack Youngerman. The exhibition will reveal Martin’s lesser-known early paintings and experimental works from this period including The Garden 1958. It will chart her experiments in different media and formats with found objects and geometric shapes, before she began making mesmerising pencilled grids on large, square canvases which would become her hallmark. Tate Modern will bring 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 and abandoned painting in 1967, just as her art was gaining considerable acclaim. 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. Georgia O’Keeffe had already famously moved to New Mexico by 1940 and other artists and writers such as DH Lawrence, Edward Hopper and Mark Rothko had all been drawn to visit the area.
Martin began making work again with On a Clear Day 1973, a portfolio of prints of differently proportioned grids and parallel lines. She continued to work in series of paintings, creating delicate, evocative works in monochrome or colour washes in combinations of pale blue, red and yellow. While often associated with Minimalists and an influential figure to those artists, Martin’s restrained style underpinned a deep conviction in the emotive and expressive power of art. Influenced by Asian belief systems including Taoism and Zen Buddhism as well as the natural surroundings of New Mexico, Martin sought to evoke a meditative contemplation of art. The exhibition will also feature 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 is co-curated at Tate Modern by Frances Morris, Head of Collections International Art at Tate Modern and Tiffany Bell, Artifex Press Editor, Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné, with Dr Lena Fritsch, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York where it will tour throughout 2015 and 2016.