Art I Can’t Show You
[Intro] The famous art dealer Arne Glimcher tells this story about the American artist Agnes Martin He says that once his 11 years old granddaughter Isabelle was visiting Martin and the little girl was holding on to a rose clipped from a bush outside of Martin’s house. Agnes Martin took the rose and said to the girl “Is this rose really beautiful?” And Isabelle said “Yes.” and then Agnes Martin hid the rose behind her back and said “Is the rose still beautiful?” “Yes.” said Isabelle, and then Agnes Martin said “You see, Isabelle. Beauty is in your mind, not in the rose. Today I want to tell you about this group of 6 Agnes Martin paintings called called “With My Back to the World” that Martin painted in 1997 near the end of her life. Martin often spoke about painting with her back to the world. She said she was not trying to paint anything of or from the world but was instead trying to paint inspiration itself, emotion itself. When I first saw these paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I was so moved by them that I started crying. Which is weird because the paintings themselves are just horizontal bands of faint color Pastel pinks and yellows and blues. In some cases, the colors are barely visible. The paintings, sixty inches square look like almost nothing. Okay so some art is as moving in replica as it is in person like seeing the Mona Lisa under glass while being jostled by hundreds of other people trying to see the Mona Lisa is not, at least in my experience more profound than looking carefully at a good reproduction of the Mona Lisa. but “With My Back to the World” losses everything in the replication of it . You would see nothing but bands of pastel paint. They’re incredibly quiet paintings, and this is a deeply unquiet visual space. So, I’m not even gonna try. You can google them if you want. Instead, I’m going to try to share these paintings with you by sharing how they made me feel.
Agnes Martin once said that “From music people accept pure emotion. But from art they demand explanation.”