March 9, 2008

Agnes Martin daydreams

In The Brooklyn Rail, Jeremy Sigler makes a pilgrimage to see Agnes Martin's last drawing. "I went to Agnes Martin’s drawing show at Peter Blum Gallery not so much to see a comprehensive museum-quality retrospective of Martin on paper (which it most definitely is), but to satisfy my curiosity after receiving the show’s announcement card, which pictured a single, 3-inch doodle. Not only was the curvy drawing entirely uncharacteristic of Martin’s mature style, but, more sensationally, the announcement claimed it was the last drawing the artist ever made prior to her death in 2004.When the card arrived, I stared at it for a long time, my mind gripped by an imagined narrative. I pictured the 92-year-old Martin, a solid, elderly hermit with boyish hair, standing in a sublime, light-infused painting studio filled with iconic, extremely reductive canvases. In my daydream, Martin was completing her swan song—that single looping gesture—when her pen dropped to the paper in slow-mo, her arm gone limp and her lifeless body collapsing to the floor. Compelled by such high drama, no doubt orchestrated by the show’s curator—presumably Peter Blum himself—I dropped my pen and dashed over to Wooster Street to see this novel, enigmatic gem in person...

"Up close, despite the work’s authenticating mat and frame, I was surprised to find the volumetric, somewhat figurative contour line drawn on a tiny piece of seemingly inexpensive paper, 3.5 by 2.75 inches, that whispered sacrilegiously of Staples. Drawn in Bic black, in person the line was, quite frankly, auraless, calling to mind nothing so much as a potted African Violet....Uh-oh. I quickly shot back to my Martin fantasy, involuntarily searching for a new frame of reference. This time I landed not in a luminous transcendental space but a blasphemously ordinary geriatric environment. I imagined the artist at her kitchen counter, speaking into a rotary phone while surrounded by towers of discounted prescription bottles and Agatha Christie novels. I hallucinated Martin with the beige receiver pinned between her ear and shoulder, agreeing on a time to be picked up and taken to her next doctor’s appointment, as she mindlessly doodled on her pad—producing this underwhelming work that was never meant for a gallery wall. In this far less idealized image of the artist at work, and of Martin’s last piece, her pen never dropped, nor did she, well… die. Her 'last' drawing failed to live up to the metaphoric EKG monitor I’d first envisioned. Which is not to say it didn’t serve to reawaken my interest in her work." Read more.

"Agnes Martin: Work on Paper," Peter Blum Gallery, New York, NY. Through March 15.

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