Agnes Martin exhibition leads three openings at Aspen Art Museum | AspenTimes.com

Agnes Martin exhibition leads three openings at Aspen Art Museum

To mount a career-spanning exhibition of the works of Agnes Martin, the Aspen Art Museum didn't need to borrow art from the artist's estate or scour the world's private collections. They needed only to look at the walls in the homes of a handful of its donors.

Martin, who died in 2004, was a Taos, New Mexico, icon and painter who is often grouped in with the American minimalist and abstract expressionist movements. The Aspen Art Museum show, which opened Wednesday, includes work from 1960 – shortly after Martin began making art – through the years to 2002, in what museum director Heidi Zuckerman called a selective survey.

The show is comprised of 14 works owned by six Aspen Art Museum supporters. Zuckerman conceived of it over the past nine years as she grew familiar with the Martin works in those private collections.

"I knew in my head that I could make a survey of her work based on what people had," Zuckerman said.

The exhibition marks the beginning of the art world looking back at Martin's long and influential career as a whole. The Tate Modern, in London, is planning a retrospective of Martin's work for June of next year, including some of the works from Aspen collectors included in the local show. Zuckerman is proud to have been able to pull together this scale of a Martin show — with representative work from each decade of Martin's career — by tapping a half-dozen Aspen Art Museum donors.

"To be able to make about six phone calls and be able to put together a selective survey of Agnes Martin from 1960 to 2002 is really impressive," she said.

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The subtle works range from small drawings on tracing paper to large watercolor and acrylic paintings on canvas. They show off both Martin's growth as an artist and the powerful, exploratory abstraction that remained in Martin's work throughout her career.

"While it looks potentially very cool and minimal and reductive, what she was efforting to do with the lines, the form, the color, the repetition, the minuteness of her mark-making was to explore notions of truth, notions of beauty and transcendence," Zuckerman said. "So the work is very meditative."

The Martin show fills the museum's smallest gallery space – you can almost take in the whole survey and its 40-plus year span by standing in the center of the room and rotating. It showcases her signature use of pencil grids, simple lines and pale washes of color to explore human emotions.

"When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees," Martin said in an interview at the Smithsonian in 1989. "Then this grid came to mind and I thought it represented innocence. … I still do, and so I painted it. I thought, this is my vision."

The Martin show is one of three new exhibitions that opened at the Aspen Art Museum this week. The others are a show by Nick Relph and a collection of art films titled "The Future Yesterday."

Nick Relph

Best known for his film and video work, the museum's Nick Relph show marks the young British artist's first solo exhibition in the U.S.

It includes his "Lusty Ghost" series of prints, which deal with various representations of Steinway piano and, in a room built in the center of the gallery space, his video "Thre Stryppis Quhite Upon ane Blak Field," which was first shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Relph made the "Lusty Ghost" pieces specifically for the Aspen Art Museum — completing many of them in the gallery space itself in the days before hanging them.

"They are about the absence of pianos," the artist said with a smirk during a walk-through of the show Tuesday night.

The gallery in which Relph's "Lusty Ghost" series hangs has taken on an appropriately ghostly tenor for the show. The lights are dim. Some works hang without lights on them, while some bare wall spaces are lit with spotlights. The piano works are nearly all colorless, fashioned in whites, blacks and grays. The drab, sad spirit of the exhibition is accentuated by Relph's art film screening in a small room in the gallery's center, and its overwhelming bursts of color.

The video, shown using old projectors, juxtaposes three different films on top of one another: one about the history of the Scottish tartan, one about the artist Ellsworth Kelly and another about Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo.

"It was about having an abundance of information," Relph explained, "where some things make sense and some things get lost."

The disparate subjects and disorienting presentation make viewing it, at times, an unsettling experience, drawn together by a title card bearing the phrase, "If you can turn off the mind and look at things only with your eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract."

'The Future Yesterday'

Also opening this week is "The Future Yesterday," a collection of film and video pieces by ten artists from six countries, with narratives set in the Middle East. Totaling just under two hours of films, it includes Moroccan flea markets, an Egyptian power plant, and a Dubai aquarium among its subjects and settings.

While the museum has film guides on hand for visitors to learn about the films and filmmakers, Zuckerman suggests visitors wait until after they've watched "The Future Yesterday" to learn about the works' origins.

"I like people to look at art without knowing what they're looking at first," she said. "I would love it if people would look at the work first and then read about it."

She also suggests people watch it in full rather than in bits and pieces.

The films will play on loop through Dec. 3, and will return for 10 days at the end of March.

A feature length film, "Wadjda," by Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour, will screen Sunday evening in conjunction with "The Future Yesterday."

This week's round of openings at the museum mark just the second turnover in its galleries since the museum opened in August.

Zuckerman is hopeful that current and past shows in the new museum start to play off of one another for frequent visitors, and enrich the Aspen Art Museum experience. The Martin show, for instance, fills the space previously occupied by ceramic work by Rosemarie Trockel. Zuckerman suggested that rotating out a current leading female artist in Trockel and replacing her with Martin, a groundbreaking woman in the art world – and opening it days after a Georgia O'Keeffe sold for $44.4 million dollars, setting a record for women artists – might make people think upon repeat stops to the gallery.

"We're hoping there's a collective memory that starts forming as people come to the museum over and over again," Zuckerman said.

atravers@aspentimes.com

If You Go …

What: Exhibitions by Agnes Martin & Nick Relph

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Through March 1

Cost: Free

What: ‘The Future Yesterday’

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Through Dec 3 & March 20-29, 2015

Cost: Free

What: Sunday Cinema: ‘Wadjda’

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Sunday, Nov. 30, 7 p.m.

Cost: Free, RSVP required via e-mail at events@aspenartmuseum.org

More info: http://www.aspenartmuseum.org

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