Skip to Main Content

Drawing the Line: The Early Work of Agnes Martin

Christina Rosenberger, art historian. The abstract paintings of the American artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004) are often discussed in terms that approach religious devotion: they have been called a form of prayer, a revelation, even “purism in excelsis.” Martin’s carefully crafted works of art are designed to engender great floods of emotion in viewers. But what happens when we strip the rhetoric that surrounds Martin’s paintings away, and consider the art—the thousands of aesthetic choices that the artist made in her pursuit of a form of abstraction that was, to use her term, completely nonobjective? In this lecture held on March 19, 2017, at the National Gallery of Art, Christina Rosenberger charts Martin’s artistic evolution through careful attention to her form and facture, arguing that Martin’s early work (1947-1961) defines the terms for all of her subsequent artistic production.