AUGUST CHALLENGE DAY 27

For the Silly Season I've set myself the challenge of visiting a different art exhibition on every day of the month and blogging about it.

Thursday 27 August

Exhibition: Agnes Martin
Place: Tate Modern

The art of mental instability is often associated with florid oddness (Richard Dadd) or furious brush work (Van Gogh). Neither of these descrptions could be further from the art of the schizophrenic Agnes Martin, whose art is one of understated but absolute linear cool. After a brief period of painting “bio-morphic” forms, Martin turned in the 1960s to symmetry, grids and stripes, often using a pencil washed over by a single colour.  She regarded these as therapeutic meditations, so perhaps the best way to approach this work, which the artist insisted expressed "innocence of mind",  is to follow her own advice: "go with them and hold your mind as empty and tranquil as they are and recognise your feelings at the same time".

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In the 1970s Martin introduced more colour but always in the most delicate shades, and often with a wash of white over all to fade the colour even more. The striped paintings inevitably remind me of faded seaside deckchairs.

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I found another memory being re-awoken by some of  Martin’s works – the lines and squares of the school exercise book, when a crisp new page was turned over but the handwriting practice or a geometrical figure-drawing had yet to begin.

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In the very last room you find that, after years of ruler-straight restraint, Martin suddenly began, in her late 80s and 90s, to draw and paint shapes again. These black triangles and squares come as something of a shock, although Martin has by no means thrown all caution to the wind. In these new figured compositions, absolute symmetry remains very much the rule.  

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It’s very odd how, after an hour or so’s exposure to the world of Agnes Martin, you begin to see grids everywhere. Descending from the gallery's 3rd floor, I noticed the floor of the lift.

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And the surface of the Millennium Bridge, which I crossed coming away from Tate Modern, looked even more like an Agnes Martin original:

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