The delightfully subtle art of Agnes Martin is simultaneously intuitive and intellectual. Although developing out of the age of Abstract Expressionism and also reflecting the ideals of Minimalism, Martin defies discrete categorization with her delicate and cool canvases. Mountain II, 1966 is an important and rare work of a highly attuned and focused time in Martin's oeuvre when her trademark large, square canvases of lines and grids were first fully developed in the 1960s. Her muted palette is brought to a new level with this painting as the artist switched from heavier oil paints to acrylic, softening the ground upon which her delicate lines are drawn. The slightest variation of color combined with the faint, ephemeral line express the artist's devotion and fascination with the unspoken and unstated in both life and art as Mountain II, 1966 insists on a restrained stance on both issues. Martin states, "My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in art work which is also wordless and silent" (T. McEvilley, "Grey Geese Descending: The Art of Agnes Martin," Artforum, Summer 1987, p. 99).
The idea of sound, or therefore lack of, was heavily explored in the work of John Cage through which the ideas and intentions of Martin's work can also be juxtaposed. Cage stated in regards to his own pieces, "Things become more useful expressively when they are not expressed by the artist but (when they are expressed by the person) receiving them." (J. Cage in conversation with Richard Francis, New York, 27 June 1989). With only essential line and subtle color, Mountain II, 1966 is the visualization of silence and testament to the powerful impact of an idea onto viewers as opposed to direct or blatant imagery. In light of Martin's interest in the spiritual and mystical, the soft color and understated compositions can be seen in direct contrast with other artists exploring notions of the sublime in art such as Barnett Newman whose dramatic vertical zips act as a counterpoint to Martin's delicate, horizontal graphite line. Whether juxtaposed against the bright verticals of Newman or the silent performances of Cage, Martin's work is ultimately most the intimate and poignant in her approach to the power and mysticism of subtle visual experience.
The title Mountain II, 1966 brings a literal association with nature to an otherwise non-objective, even void composition. The vastness of landscape suggested by the infinite lines evokes the same endless span as the mountain suggested in the title. Although Martin claimed her work to be "anti-nature, it is not what is seen but what is known forever in the mind" (note from the artist to the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, 1972), it is important to note her deliberate marking of the canvas as landscape albeit barren. The broad horizontals are unconfined by vertical boundaries of her iconic grids, the structure of the painting itself acts as the boundary of Mountain II, 1966, asserting the infinite and cosmic capacities of the picture plane in a restrained and understated approach to Minimalism.
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
Please note this work is signed, titled and dated '"Mountain" II 1966 a. martin' (on the reverse)
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed, titled and dated '"Mountain" II 1966 a. martin' (on the reverse)
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm.)
Robert Elkon Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner