The art of Agnes Martin has never been more sought after and admired. You can't turn a corner in the art world today without coming face to face with the carefully curated calm of her meticulous works. Her restrained palette is a guidebook for the young and hip – created before they even knew they wanted it, before they even existed. But Martin's popularity was not strictly intentional, she abandoned the art world and its consumer-driven confinements in the 60s. She packed her bag and drove off towards the horizon... or New Mexico.
Now her work pops up again, no surprise, at a new collective exhibition at the Cheim & Read gallery in Chelsea, New York. A show which explores the "poetics of the horizon in abstract art". And for those who don't know what that means – it's a collection of works which make the straight line their focus. The result is three rooms of paintings that delightfully feed into our need for rational, rule-following visuals. At least compositionally.
Cover image: Bill Jensen, Lohan I, 2001-03, oil on linen, detail, Cheim & Read Gallery
Bill Jensen, Lohan I, 2001-03, oil on linen, Cheim & Read Gallery
The exhibition displays works dating from 1937 to now, from twenty-one different artists. It's said to have been inspired by a quote from Martin herself: “Anyone who can sit on a stone in a field awhile can see my painting. Nature is like parting a curtain you go into … as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean”. The underlining gist is to understand that abstraction can be distilled from elements in nature: land, sea, sky, light, air and so on, and reinterpreted as non-objective planes.
Matthew Wong, Last Summer in Santa, 2017, oil on canvas, Cheim & Read Gallery
Ron Gorchov, Pleione, 2016, oil on linen, Cheim & Read Gallery
But there is something very steadying about this exhibition which has more to do with human-nature than with the natural world. In a time where very little activity remains linear, where multi-tasking has quickly converted into anxiety and hyper-stimulation, these paintings reflect a subconscious search for achieving linearity in our daily lives – for peace, for stillness and clarity. Because, beyond a good yoga session, that brand of calm has become quite difficult to come by.
"They're just horizontal lines.
There's not a hint of nature.
And still everybody responds, I think"
It's not surprising that Agnes Martin – the central figure in this exhibition – didn't have an easy life. Her emotional turmoil began in her childhood where she suffered emotional abuse and solitude. As she grew older and exiled herself from material things and, to an extent, other people, she began a long journey into the creation of her restrained, controlled vernacular. Now, it's that very same orderly language that speaks softly but reassuringly to its viewers, convincing them that it's okay to slow down, forget the world, and gaze at the horizontal.
Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1959, oil on canvas, Cheim & Read Gallery
The Horizontal is on show at Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, New York until the 31st August 2017. Entrance is free.
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