Agnes Martin Exhibition Opens in Edinburgh

A rare display of one of America’s foremost abstract painters will be unveiled this summer as part of the programme of ARTIST ROOMS exhibitions at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The presentation of late works by Agnes Martin (1912-2004) will include three paintings held in ARTIST ROOMS, complemented by a group of works on loan courtesy of the artist’s estate, PaceWildenstein, New York and Arne and Milly Glimcher.

agnes-martinMartin is acclaimed for her singular, abstract practice that spanned a career of nearly five decades. Born in Canada, Martin was descended from Scottish pioneers who moved from the Isle of Skye to Canada in the late 19th century. She moved to New York in 1957 where she became influenced by the work of the American Abstract Expressionist artists. Her development of a pure, abstract style led her work to be aligned with Minimalism. However, Martin refuted this, maintaining that her concern was with the inner, emotional world. For most of her career, Martin worked in isolation, inspired by her reading of ancient Chinese Tao philosophy and by the bare desert landscapes in New Mexico where she resided from 1967 until her death in 2004.

Dating from between 1994 and 2003, the eight paintings presented at the Gallery of Modern Art, highlight the scope of Martin’s late practice, particularly her tactile handling of paint and use of a broader range of hues in her palette. In contrast to the large grid-based works the artist made in the 1960s, these paintings are primarily composed of horizontal bands of ethereal colour, and all are painted on a uniform size of canvas, reduced in scale. These works move between a preoccupation with ordered geometry and the irregularity created by hand-drawn pencil lines. She viewed this deliberate inconsistency which undermines the possibility of geometric perfection as analogous to the human condition. In the late 1990s after a long period of leaving her works untitled, Martin reintroduced titles into her work to evoke states of euphoria and memories of past happiness, such as the two paintings Happy Holiday (1999) and Faraway Love (1999) which will be on show at the Gallery of Modern Art this summer.

This exhibition forms part of the programme of ARTIST ROOMS, a new collection of modern and contemporary art held by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland for the nation. ARTIST ROOMS was established through The d’Offay Donation in 2008, with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund and the Scottish and British Governments. ARTIST ROOMS is being shared with museums and galleries throughout the UK with the support of independent charity The Art Fund, and within Scotland, the Scottish Government.

Throughout 2009, National Galleries of Scotland and Tate and 13 museums and galleries across the UK will be showing over 30 ARTIST ROOMS from the collection created by the dealer and collector, Anthony d’Offay, and acquired by the nation in February 2008. This is the first time a national collection has been shared and shown simultaneously across the UK, and has only been made possible through the exceptional generosity of independent charity The Art Fund and, in Scotland, of The Scottish Government.

Image: Agnes Martin, Happy Holiday, 1999. Acrylic and graphite on canvas, 152.40 x 152.40 cm © Estate of Agnes Martin/DACS, London 2008. Photo: A Reeve