Thursday, December 29, 2016

Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim: Ascending the Ramp

The exhibition room at start of ramp, showing a series of lightly painted works with various configurations of stripes.
Hard to see here, but the variations suggested film loops or alterations within  an ongoing field or  screen.
The stripes were created seemingly from graphite - lightly and perfectly applied.
Early work. The early paintings are disconcertingly horizontal, with a few extra beats of space than expected.
Another. Soft touch and paint full of breath.

The screening room, where we observe Martin turn a painting on its side and pull paint down like watercolor. 

Detail of soft colors and touch
Grid drawing on a rough surface: the structure beneath Martin's compositions. 
Practice: tethering line from one end to the other, meticulously with focus 

Pleasurable, meditative methodologies: measure, then draw / augment 
Natural linen, graphite, white - with enough air for breathing 
In some ways not unlike Robert Ryman's White Paintings - but in the spirit of ink painting, despite emphasis on geometry

Imperfections beneath the linework appear on many of Martin's paintings - surprising and not unwelcome

This means a lot to me and expresses my feeling about painting as well. Imagery complicates the matter, but that in part is a question of one's moment.

Geometry casts a wide, often controlling net: one craves its structure, absolute essentialism, else one rebels. I have always rebelled, seeking alternatives to the dualism of vertical/horizontal in the butterfly perspectives of Chinese landscape. Yet in these drawings there is such succor: they are perfect. I love the bottom one (above) - the weight of the lines, the emphasis on the horizontal, despite the number of vertical lines. The lines are drawn so perfectly and the texture of graphite in the horizontal lines so pleasing and full.

Moving to paintings, softly and lightly kissed by the brush.

There is a faded quality to these that feels generous, insouciant even. 
The dripped watercolor technique shown here. Transparency allows light to shine through. Graphite provides opacity as does grid. A beautiful balance of elements. 
Not every idea is amazing. She tried and sometimes failed. 
The simplicity, her ability to allow it, was the great gift.

An avid fan of her writing and thinking, I wanted to see this work without so much backstory; to see how it held up visually.

It did. 
Detail. In addition to splotches that lurked beneath the top layer in her paintings at times, Martin also experimented with texture - blobs of paint crusting up on the surface she'd then grid over without sanding. 
More successful in her vellum or tracing paper drawings was the restraint of pale red line bounded by graphite.

Another beauty.

Subtle, pulsing light

The bands like a rolling credit on a screen...

The blue painting on right, a knockout - color, proportion, touch just perfect.

Toward the end of her life she returns to earlier motifs, which I did not include here but are in the show.

The left painting a beauty: broad watery marks with the strong geometric shapes. But again, the true genius is allowing graphite, or watery paint, to act as solids and transparencies. These don't feel as resolved.

Her last painting: one might argue incomplete. Still good to see. By this time, she's moving scale down from 6 to 5 feet widths.

From the start: the rolling credit feel again. In a sense like Mondrian: the relationships between works establish rhythms  and spaces that intensify or complicate what each work contains within itself.

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