Agnes Martin’s (Maklin, Saskatchewam, Canada, 1912 - Taos, New Mexico, 2004) work is determined by the rotation which the notion of the sublime goes through, ranging from landscape painting to abstract in the second half of the twentieth century. Shaped within the New York landscape and influenced by Abstract Expressionism in the Fifties, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko become her main artistic references, recognising that in both painters "geometry could be at the service of spiritual contemplation," as noted by Barbara Haskell, curator of the exhibition hosted by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
This exhibition traces the career of Martin from 1960 to 1992, where the notion of painting as a visual field dominates and where the artist embodies the transcendent revelation of the inmost nature of reality. With fifty works that include paintings and drawings, the exhibition distinguishes two distinct stages in her career: one that lasts until 1967 and the other beginning in 1973, separated in time by a voluntary abandonment of artistic practice.
Martin's work is based on two fundamental artistic constants throughout the years: to reach the sublime inmaterial of reality and to make the spectator abandon their subjectivity towards her paintings. As noted by Haskell, both the Bible and the writings of Chinese scholars and poets - from Chiang Tzu to Lao Tzu - form the basis of this aesthetic approach. In this way, Martin, who departs from symbolic ideas applied to geometry, gradually slips into an abstract painting which incorporates lattice weaving, a gesture that for most critiques means an approach to minimalism. Without sharing the analytical interest of minimalists’ geometric shapes nor her rejection of textures and personal handwriting, her intentions are of a mystic order and as Barbara Haskell recalls "her vision of art is the embodiment of emotional responses [of the artist] to life ".
After experimenting with the notion of trace, line, and points (even incorporating nails and round corks on the canvas), by 1963 she manages to define a pictorial grammar of her own based on lattice weaving. Each rectangle (or arch) of the grid becomes a mantra, in such a way that she formulates a kind of abstraction that favours the absence of self, so as to communicate the sublime inmaterialism of reality. When she returns to painting in the mid-1970s, lines are replaced by bands of colour. The notion of the sublime and the idea of the impersonal are more significant: the titles of the pictures no longer refer to nature or passage (as in previous works: Gray Stone II (1961), Song (1962), Milk River (1963) and Flower in the wind (1963), and she works by series, in this way showing the contemporary possibilities of a painting liberated from the artist's subjectivity.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (November 6, 1992 - January 31, 1993); Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, USA (February 12 - April 4, 1993); Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, Florida (May 22 - August 1, 1993); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Texas (September 10 - October 31, 1993)