Sunday, September 2, 2012

Complexity of Simplicity

Dia Art Foundation recently published a book of essays about the paintings of Agnes Martin (1912-2004). The binding of the book (above) is solid and simple and attractive and appropriate. The text is not. There seems to be a rule (like a secret handshake) among art critics that the greater the visual simplicity of the work, the greater the verbal complexity of the commentary.

How the artist herself would have laughed at these tangled skeins of prose! Though undoubtedly they do serve a purpose – in advancing the academic / journalistic / curatorial careers of the writers. But their ability to annoy evaporates instantaneously once the plates are encountered. The subtlety of Martin's chosen patterns and colors and surfaces means that truly adequate reproductions are completely impossible to hope for, and even reasonably good reproductions are unusually difficult to produce. Those sampled below are at least a noble effort and show the right kind of respect for this master who arrived at Minimalism a generation ahead of the mainstream Minimalists.
Homage to Greece, 1950

Wheat, 1957

Kali, 1958

Grey Stone II, 1961

Night Sea, 1963

Untitled #3, 1974

Untitled #12, 1975

Contentment, 1999

I first got interested in Agnes Martin a couple of years ago when I encountered an entire gallery full of her paintings (as described here) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The one half-decent close-up I managed to obtain back in 2010 (immediately below) gives enough detail to hint at Martin's actual working method, with its rigid-yet-unsteady brushwork.