Agnes Martin, a Matter-of-Fact Mystic
The abstract painter Agnes Martin died in 2004, at the age of ninety-two, and a new retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum affirms that the greatness of her work has only amplified in the years since. That’s something of a surprise: no setting would seem less congenial to the strict angles of Martin’s paintings than the curves of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creamy seashell. I also worried that the work’s repetitive formulas—grids and stripes, mostly gray or palely colored, often six feet square—would add aesthetic fatigue to the mild toll of a hike up the ramp. But the show’s challenges to contemplation and stamina turn out to intensify a deep, and deepening, sense of the artist’s singular powers. The climb becomes a sort of secular pilgrimage, on which you may feel your perceptual ability to register minute differences of tone and texture steadily refined, and your heart ambushed by rushes of emotion.
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