• Books

    Don’t Think About Picasso: The Wisdom of Agnes Martin

    A new book celebrates a four-decade friendship between Agnes Martin and Pace Gallery’s Arne Glimcher

    Agnes Martin showing Arne Glimcher her new truck in New Mexico, 1979.

    COURTESY PHAIDON 2012/PHAIDON.COM AND THE PACE GALLERY, NEW YORK, LONDON, BEIJING

    As a fledgling art dealer in 1963, Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher met painter Agnes Martin at a party at Jack Youngerman’s loft on Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan. “We clicked immediately,” Glimcher recalls. “She was making work unlike anything anyone had seen before.” He adds, “I had a business partner then, Fred Mueller, who was able to buy one of her paintings for about $1,000. I certainly didn’t have that kind of money.”

    Martin and Glimcher would go on to develop a four-decade-long artist-dealer relationship and friendship. Now, Glimcher has produced a testament to Martin’s life and work in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances (Phaidon), with reproductions of her seminal art, facsimiles of her handwritten musings, and Glimcher’s own reminiscences of visits to her studios in New York and New Mexico.

    When Martin stopped painting in 1967, Glimcher says, “she brought her canvases and brushes to Fred and me, and said, ‘You know a lot of young artists. Just give them away.’” During this period, Martin, who suffered from psychotic episodes throughout her life, lived in a house on a mesa in Cuba, New Mexico. The rivers around the mesa would sometimes swell with rain, and there was no way out. “She would be stuck there months at a time, and that’s what she wanted,” Glimcher says. When she took up painting again, in 1975, she produced “exuberant works in blue and pink,” he adds. “It’s like the grids opened up and this is what was behind them. Probably being back in New Mexico, away from people, suddenly gave her a level of security again.”

    During Glimcher’s visits to Martin’s studios over the years, he took copious notes on her lifestyle (she would subsist on a diet of bananas and coffee during bouts of productivity) as well as her observations about art making. “If Picasso crosses your mind while you’re painting, it’s all over,” she once remarked.

    One of the more curious chapters in Martin’s 92-year life concerns her brief career as a filmmaker. In 1976, she made a movie called Gabriel, about a ten-year-old boy’s impressions of the natural world around him. “Every rock, pebble and plant struggling for survival . . . is recorded,” Glimcher writes in the book. Martin was so pleased with the outcome that she planned another film “about the seduction of the princess of China by Genghis Khan,” he says. She went to Japan and hired Kabuki actors and brought them to New Mexico, where she hired Native Americans to play the Mongols. “Filming went on for a time before the project became uncontrollable in its scale,” Glimcher remembers. She gave it up and returned to painting.

    Asked why he would devote five years to producing a book about Martin, Glimcher responds, “There’s no book on Agnes,” and “she wouldn’t allow one to be written. She said to me once as I was taking notes, ‘You’re not going to publish these, are you?’ And I said, ‘No. Not if you don’t want me to.’ And she responded, ‘I want you to publish them after I’m dead.’ When she died in 2004, I felt I had an obligation.”

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