AGNES MARTIN (1912-2004)
60 x 60 in.
acrylic and graphite on canvas
Untitled #11 was exhibited by the Menil Collection in Houston in 2002 in a show studying Agnes Martin’s works from the 1990s.
Martin diluted her acrylic paint to mix with the gesso of her canvas so that the colors absorb and reflect light in equal measure. Her restrictive color palette resembles less the color themselves as they do the effect of light itself.
Agnes Martin ranks as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Although her life and works have had lasting impact and influence, her paintings are impervious studies of complexities – filled with profound beauty, sitting at a steely remove. She is most known for her square canvases filled with grids and horizontal lines. To say they are silent meditations would do a disservice to their hermetic splendor. To say they are opaque examinations of line, color, and form would cut off conversations on their impact on the viewer and influence on other artists. Instead, we must treat her paintings as totems to a tireless artistic vision.
Born in Canada in 1912, Martin came to painting relatively late, having decided to become an artist at age 30. Despite this, she worked until her death in 2004. Martin lived in Taos before being invited by famed gallerist Betty Parsons to New York. There, she worked alongside and befriended Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Barnett Newman. Martin eventually made her way back to New Mexico where she would spend the rest of her life. As she once said,
I think it is more important to figure out where you want to be than it is what you want to do. First you have to find where you need to be, and then you can do what you need to do.
Perhaps, then, we must consider her paintings as objects both affixed to a time and space, evocations of a specific place – literal and metaphorical. Which brings us to this painting, Untitled #11. As Martin grew older, she reduced her canvas from 72 x 72 in. to 60 x 60 in. Practical with the advancement of age, the reduction of size also presents a more intimate experience. While this work may have come late in life, the painting is by no means a work by an artist in decline. In fact, the work was exhibited by the Menil Collection in Houston in 2002 in a show studying Martin’s works from the 1990s. The piece holds within it, like all of her work, that it is an expression of creative energy rather than any representation, narration, or even an image.
The painting contains strict technical perfection. Martin diluted her acrylic paint to mix with the gesso of her canvas so that the colors absorb and reflect light in equal measure. Her restrictive color palette resembles less the color themselves as they do the effect of light itself. Thus, with geometry acting as a unifying structural element and the careful emanations of color, the painting is a node connecting Minimalism and the Color Field School of Abstract Expressionism.
Spartan and yet gentle in its beauty, Martin’s painting opens up a space in which the viewer can communicate with the artist, with the canvas, with themselves, and with their environment.
Agnes Martin photographed in her studio by Mildred Tolbert c. 1955
Agnes Martin at her house near Cuba, New Mexico, in 1974. Photograph by Gianfranco Gorgon
Agnes Martin, Taos, 1997 by Steve Northup
Catalog and Video
The graph prepared by Art Market Research shows that since 1976, paintings by Agnes Martin have increased at a 15% annual rate of return.
Most of the Martin paintings that have achieved the highest prices at auction, depicted below, feature horizontal washes of pale blue, yellow, and light red, delicately defined by penciled lines. Untitled #11, though completed in 1998, is characteristic of this earlier and pivotal time
The record for a Martin painting at auction was set in 2016 when Orange Grove (1965) sold for $10,693,000 USD. The top 5 Martin paintings at auction all sold for over $6 million USD.
A recent resurgence of interest in artwork by women adds value to this piece as major museums seek to highlight historically marginalized groups. Martin created just 568 paintings in her prime period between 1960-2004. Of those, 145 are held in permanent museum collections, leaving 423 that might become available for sale.
Untitled (2003), a comparable year and size to Untitled #11, sold for $4,692,500 USD in November of 2017. Based on the compound annual growth rate of 15%, that painting would be worth over $7 million today.
Top Results at Auction
Paintings in Museum Collections
The definitive authority on the authenticity of paintings by Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum inspected this painting in January 2020 and provided this letter of authenticity. During that inspection, X-ray revealed a second painting under the surface – a portrait of a man.