New Books: Agnes Martin

The SVA library recently added two new books on the American abstract painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004). Written by SVA faculty member Nancy Princenthal, Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, is the first full-length biography devoted to exploring Martin’s extraordinary life of creative determination, psychological perseverance, and elected solitude. Known primarily for her paintings, Martin was also a writer, poet, and one-time filmmaker. (Her only film, Gabriel, explores the natural landscape by following a young boy going for a walk.) The biography contains 38 illustrations, including film stills, portraits, and a selection of paintings that span her entire career. It was recently shortlisted for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for excellence in the art of biography. From the publisher’s description,

agnes martinOver 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.

The SVA library also has the aforementioned documentary, Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World, made in 2002 by Mary Lance.

The second of the two new books, Agnes Martin, was recently published by D.A.P./Tate and touted as the first comprehensive monograph on the artist’s career. Created as an accompaniment to the critically-acclaimed touring retrospective, the New York Times Book Review called the new release, “indispensable.” From the publisher’s description,

agnes-martin-2This groundbreaking survey provides an overview of Martin’s career, from lesser-known early experimental works through her striped and gridded grey paintings and use of color in various formats, to a group of her final pieces that reintroduce bold forms. A selection of drawings and watercolors is also included. With essays by leading scholars that give a context for Martin’s work—her life, relationship with other artists, the influence of South-Asian philosophy—alongside focused shorter pieces on particular paintings, this beautifully designed volume is the definitive publication on her oeuvre.

The library has many other books on Agnes Martin in the collection, including Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond and Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances to name just a few. And if reading about her work isn’t enough, you can make a pilgrimage upstate to Dia:Beacon and visit the significant collection of Martin’s paintings that are on display there.

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