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Agnes Martin

The ‘80s: Grey Paintings

About Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin (b. 1912, Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada; d. 2004, Taos, New Mexico) imparted a legacy of abstraction that has inspired generations of artists. Using a limited palette and a geometric vocabulary, her works are inscribed with lines or grids that hover over subtle grounds of color. Martin’s work is recognized as pure abstraction, in which space, metaphysics and internal emotional states are explored through painting, drawing and printmaking.

Martin is the recipient of numerous awards including the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and the National Medal of Arts in 1998. She has been the subject of one-artist exhibitions worldwide, including a five-part retrospective at Dia: Beacon, New York, in 2007, and, most recently, a 2015 retrospective at Tate Modern, London, which will travel to Kunstsammlung NRW, Düsseldorf; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Press Release

  • Agnes Martin: The '80s: Grey Paintings
    The Pace Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Agnes Martin from the 1980s. The ‘80s: Grey Paintings includes a group of six canvases that were part of an important exhibition at Pace’s Soho gallery in 1990 that represented a radical departure from Martin’s previous work. Pace’s exhibition will usher in an important year for Martin: 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of her birth; Yale University Press, in conjunction with the Dia Art Foundation, and Phaidon will release new publications about the artist; and The Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico will present an exhibition of her work. The ‘80s: Grey Paintings will be on view at 534 West 25th Street from September 16 through October 29, 2011. A public reception will be held on September 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. It is the twenty-sixth solo exhibition of Martin’s work at Pace, which has represented the artist since 1975. The ‘80s was an exceptionally productive decade for Martin as she experimented with the boundaries of geometric abstraction and the possibilities of surface and color. Concentrating on horizontal divisions of six-foot square canvases, she found endless permutations by dividing the area with pencil lines and varying the tonal range between black and white. Instead of the translucent washes of faint color seen during earlier periods, Martin experimented with a palette of muted greys, layering paint to create robust, opaque surfaces that serve as a bridge between her early and later works. In a significant departure from her earlier technique of gradually layering sheer washes to develop a delicate skin of color, in the works from 1988 and 1989 Martin employed a palette knife to spread and build a more physically tactile surface of undiluted pigment. The ‘80s: Grey Paintings will feature rare loans, including Fiesta (1985), from the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The works in The ‘80s: Grey Paintings continue Martin’s line of aesthetic inquiry into the language of geometry, light, and color as the ideal vehicle for introspection. For Martin, the austere visual language of horizontal stripes of alternating value was not an end in itself but was the most direct way for the artist to convey her emotional and spiritual response to life. According to Martin, her paintings exist as “memories of perfection . . . representing a perception of the ideal.” In a 1989 lecture at The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, titled “Beauty is the Mystery of Life,” Martin said, “The goal of life is happiness and to respond to life as though it were perfect is the way to happiness. It is also the way to positive art work . . . It is quite commonly thought that the intellect is responsible for everything that is made and done. It is commonly thought that everything that is can be put into words. But there is a wide range of emotional response that we make that cannot be put into words. We are so used to making these emotional responses that we are not consciously aware of them till they are represented as art work.” Two major books and a catalogue raisonné of Martin’s work are forthcoming. In January 2012 Yale University Press, in conjunction with the Dia Art Foundation, will release Agnes Martin, an anthology of scholarly essays including contributions by Rhea Anastas, Lynne Cooke, Douglas Crimp, Suzanne Hudson, Jonathan Katz, Zoe Leonard, Jaleh Mansoor, Michael Newman, Christina Rosenberger, and Anne Wagner. In the spring Phaidon will publish a book by Arne Glimcher, who will reflect on his five-decade friendship along with rare primary documents and recounts of studio visits. In addition, Artifex Press will publish a digital catalogue raisonné of Martin’s paintings and works on paper as well as full exhibition and bibliographic information, which will be updated continually online. Agnes Martin (1912–2004) was born in Saskatchewan and studied at Western Washington College of Education, Bellingham, WA, prior to receiving her B.S. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. Martin matriculated at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she also taught art courses before returning to Columbia University to earn her M.A. (1952). Though she began to paint at the age of 25, Martin did not have a solo exhibition until 1958. Her reputation was made in the early 1960s by her atmospheric, monochrome canvases on which she would lay down simple graphite grids. For the next seven years, Martin steadily gained critical renown as her deeply meditative six-foot-square paintings extended the heroic pursuits of Abstract Expressionism in new direction. Then, in 1967, without warning, Martin left New York, abandoned painting, and settled into solitude in New Mexico. Ensconced on a remote mesa near Albuquerque, she would not paint again until 1974. During the years that followed, Martin developed her signature style of alternating horizontal bands of color. Martin’s work has been the subject of nearly 100 solo shows and two retrospectives including the survey Agnes Martin organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which later traveled to Milwaukee, Miami, Houston, and Madrid (1992–94), and Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1974–1990 organized by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, with subsequent venues in France and Germany (1991–92). Between 2004 and 2008, Dia:Beacon presented a six-part series of exhibitions exploring different phases of Martin’s career in-depth. A focused presentation of her work was the subject of the exhibition Artist Rooms: Agnes Martin (2009–2011), which travelled to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge; May 15–July 10, 2010; and the Tate Modern, London. In addition to participating in an international array of group exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1997, 1980, 1976), the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (1995, 1977), and Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1972), Martin has been the recipient of multiple honors including the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Women’s Caucus for Art of the College Art Association (2005); the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts given by Governor Gary Johnson, Santa Fe, New Mexico (1998); the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton and the National Endowment for the Arts (1998); the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement by the College Art Association (1998); the Golden Lion for Contribution to Contemporary Art at the Venice Biennale (1997); the Oskar Kokoschka Prize awarded by the Austrian government (1992); the Alexej von Jawlensky Prize awarded by the city of Wiesbaden, Germany (1991); and election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York (1989). Martin’s work can be found in virtually every major public collection in the United States, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; The Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati, Marfa, TX; Dia Center for the Arts, NY; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; The Menil Collection, Houston, TX; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, NY; The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. For more information about Agnes Martin: The ‘80s: Grey Paintings, please contact the Public Relations department of The Pace Gallery at 212.421.8987. For general inquiries, please email; for reproduction requests, email


The first time I saw Agnes Martin’s work in a gallery space was at Dia:Beacon. As so many others have no doubt done too, I went there alone, to escape the city. It was a crisp Fall day and on the train ride up, the Hudson river flickered through the window in flashes of green and silver. I saw a lot of work that day that sent me home on a new trail of thought – but Martin’s work in particular stayed with me. This week – years after that first sighting – I went to Agnes Martin’s most recent retro

You could hear David Byrne’s installation Tight Spot—which opened yesterday beneath the High Line next door to The Pace Gallery’s 25th Street branch—long before you saw it. The piece is a large inflatable globe, crammed beneath the old re-appropriated train track in a small enclave off the street. The artist and former Talking Head recorded his voice and processed it so that, played through speakers, it rumbled and echoed, sounding like bombs hitting or distant battle drumming. The sound filled