i like people to be able to stroll into my works as I do when creating them- Agnes Martin
Pauline and I rode the elevator to the top of the Guggenheim and began our long walk with Martin’s paintings. The work is multilayered, both minimal and expressionist. Tones of blue, grey, white, a muted coral, and black were dominant across the canvases and yet each painting had a completely different mood. In her later works, Martin’s ability to mix often hard geometric forms with smooth, muted tones, creates an elegant tension. At one point Pauline remarked, “it was like she wasn’t trying to do something exceptional;” and in her subtly, Martin created remarkable works.
Gliding down the spiral of the Guggenheim alongside Martin’s square forms made us giddy. This space is the perfect place to hold and show these paintings. There is a pleasant tension throughout the show. The curves of the building contrast with the linear and grid-like nature of Martin’s work. The experience made me think a lot about gender normatively. I associate softness, curvy, and cyclic forms with women: our physical shape, our ability to create life, and the way women are grounded in nature. Floating down Wright’s architecture while looking at Martin’s organized and linear forms, flips the idea of who can paint and create certain types of work. Although Martin’s later works are filled with grids, triangles and straight marks, her lines are not hard or harsh. There is an intentional structure in the work but it is still approachable. We are able to walk into these paintings and drawings, we can get lost in these forms.
Some of Martin’s paintings looked like sheets of music, particularly Fiesta, acrylic on canvas, 1985. She creates sounds in multiple ways through these quiet works. The mix of materials like soft graphite on canvas could be a breathy flautist. Her fine even lines remind me of a single key on the piano being repeated. There is a meditative quality in the sheer act of looking at a Martin painting. She creates a balanced and zen-like experience. A place for the viewer to get lost. She is able to open up our senses, even while in complete silence. As we descended to the bottom of the museum and approached Martin’s early works I was able to see a strong Miró influence. However, as we move forward in time and backward through the museum, Martin becomes completely her own, herself, and she will last forever.