Thursday, December 1, 2016

Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim Museum

While Agnes Martin’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum is a testament to her legacy, the show also operates as a subtle celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of the museum. Because Martin’s work relies so heavily on the physical space of the viewer, the Guggenheim’s architecture has truly elevates her work to the level of a spiritual encounter.

Walking up the ramp, the spectator grows with Martin. The passage of time is articulated through the swirl of the museum, as the oldest works are located at the bottom of the rotunda and the rest of her oeuvre is positioned in chronological order. The shape of the Guggenheim dictates the experience of Martin’s work and reveals the evolution of her artistic processes, as well as the shift in her conceptual intentions.

Central to her work lies the grid: a motif which conveys control as well a sense of objectivity and universality. The grid exists in a vacuum and is decontextualized from cultural ideals; therefore, it is transcends time. Her non-representational body of work allows for explorations of color and form while remaining impervious to narrative. Yet, in paintings of horizontal and vertical bands, it is the simple mistakes that keeps Martin’s work human. The imperfections that exist in her hand drawn lines maintain a sense of life and approachability- the work is not an imitation of perfection, but a mystical articulation of spirituality and consciousness. Experiencing one of Martin’s works in an architecturally unique space is a meditative practice, one that roots the viewer in their surroundings while simultaneously having the potential to overwhelm with intense emotions.

Agnes Martin, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 7, 2016–January 11, 2017. Photo: David Heald


  1. Reading your review, I was struck with how well you described the Guggenheim and the experience of walking through the exhibition. I agree; the works and the museum work very well in tandem, elevating the paintings to an experience in itself. However, I’d like a little more on the works themselves; on the quiet moments in the early works, the muted color schemes and how she evolved them, and the impact of her last works. Also maybe explain just how the Guggenheim’s hanging of the work makes explicit the evolution of her concepts and emotional state.

  2. I think that you have good things to say about both the exhibition as a whole and the individual paintings within the show, but you should pick one angle to approach this review with. I'd lose the 2nd sentence and just say that this was an international exhibition with huge appeal. The exhibition felt personal and intimate, the review should reflect that.