Agnes Martin: Her Life and Artby Nancy Princenthal
Over the course of a career that spanned fifty years, Agnes Martin’s austere, serene work anticipated and helped to define Minimalism, even as she battled psychological crises and carved out a solitary existence in the American
The first biography of visionary artist Agnes Martin, one of the most original and influential painters of the postwar period
Over the course of a career that spanned fifty years, Agnes Martin’s austere, serene work anticipated and helped to define Minimalism, even as she battled psychological crises and carved out a solitary existence in the American Southwest. Martin identified with the Abstract Expressionists but her commitment to linear geometry caused her to be associated in turn with Minimalist, feminist, and even outsider artists. She moved through some of the liveliest art communities of her time while maintaining a legendary reserve. “I paint with my back to the world,” she says both at the beginning and at the conclusion of a documentary filmed when she was in her late eighties. When she died at ninety-two, in Taos, New Mexico, it is said she had not read a newspaper in half a century.
No substantial critical monograph exists on this acclaimed artistthe recipient of two career retrospectives as well as the National Medal of the Artswho was championed by critics as diverse in their approaches as Lucy Lippard, Lawrence Alloway, and Rosalind Krauss. Furthermore, no attempt has been made to describe her extraordinary life. The whole engrossing story, told here for the first time, Agnes Martin is essential reading for anyone interested in abstract art or the history of women artists in America.
Writing a biography of Agnes Martin (1912-2004) is a study in frustration, but former Art in America senior editor Princenthal (School of the Visual Arts; Hannah Wilke, 2010, etc.) manages to piece together a story while getting beyond her subject's well-guarded privacy. Martin was born in rural Saskatchewan and bounced between the coasts as student and teacher, building the disciplinarian aspect of her character. Eventually, she spent 40 years on and off in Taos, New Mexico, punctuated by forays to New York. Throughout her life, she sought time to be alone, whether traveling or living on a lonely mesa outside of Santa Fe. When she began giving talks about art, she refused to speak to or meet any of the audience members. However, she wasn't asocial; she had many artist friends when she lived in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Among her influences were Zen Buddhism and Rothko, Cage and Klee. A contemporary of the abstract expressionists, Martin's work was much more minimalist. When she finally stopped destroying her work, she settled on rectilinear grids on square canvases; she sought to upset the power of the square. She suffered a lifelong battle with schizophrenic paranoia, and she hoped to bring out what she felt were the only true feelings: happiness and helplessness. The author readily acknowledges that Martin is unknowable, citing contradictory biographical material from the artist. Martin prohibited catalogs for her exhibitions and swore her friends to secrecy regarding her life. She feared the deception of words. Princenthal carefully describes the artist's works, but there is no way to appreciate her without seeing the originals; illustrations don't fully convey the feeling in her work. The author's deep research and personal correspondence with the artist will be enlightening to fans of Martin and will encourage others to seek out her work.
- Thames & Hudson
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- 6.70(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.40(d)
Meet the Author
Nancy Princenthal has been writing about contemporary art for more than twenty-five years and was a senior editor at Art in America for five years. She has also written for the New York Times, the Village Voice, Artforum, and Bookforum.
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