January 21, 2014
Media Contact: Julianna Verboort, 253.272.4258 x3047,

Revealing Agnes Martin’s Artistic Evolution

Nationally-Acclaimed Exhibition Brings Rare Artworks
and New Vision of Artist to Tacoma Art Museum

(Tacoma, WA) – Agnes Martin is among the most admired and influential American painters of the last half century. Her sparingly painted but emotionally rich grid compositions in a muted palette created a singular genre, a combination of minimalism and abstract expressionism that has inspired two generations of collectors, curators, and fellow artists. Her work is included in virtually every major museum of contemporary art. From January 25 through April 20, 2014, Martin’s rarely-seen early artwork will be on view at Tacoma Art Museum in Agnes Martin: The New York–Taos Connection (1947–1957).

Produced from the early 1960s until the end of her career in 2004, Agnes Martin’s reductive works in vaporous hues distinguish her as one of the key innovators in American abstraction. But what of the artist before this? Early in her career Martin worked in a far more spontaneous, organic, and aggressive style; expressing an inner angst that seems wholly incompatible with the absolute control and serenity of her later grids.

“This exhibition provides a more complete story of Agnes Martin as an artist,” said Margaret Bullock, Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. “These rare, early works are insights into her mind at work and reveal the dramatic evolution of this celebrated artist.”

Martin wasn’t particularly happy with the early work. Historians contend she destroyed more than 100 of her early pieces and tried to reclaim as many as she could from friends, relatives and collectors so she could dispose of them as well. It took a small team of curators about two years to unravel the mystery of her artistic beginnings. Playing detective, curators read through Martin’s letters, looked through film negatives, and searched public and private art collections. Curators even approached the school district in Taos, New Mexico, Martin’s long-time home, and were able to find some of her work in a storage closet at a high school. The rare pieces they uncovered in their various hunts are part of the exhibition.

“Bringing this nationally-acclaimed exhibition to Tacoma not only gives our community a chance to come to a new understanding of Agnes Martin, but it also adds to our exciting lineup of renowned women artists on view at the museum this year,” said Stephanie A. Stebich, Director of Tacoma Art Museum.

Agnes Martin: The New York–Taos Connection (1947–1957) suggests two distinct stages in Martin’s career, a before and after, with a metamorphosis in between, after which a former self is transformed into an utterly new one.

“Throughout the 1950s, throughout her artistic career, Agnes Martin was on a continual quest to express the language of the inner mind,” writes Jina Brenneman, Curator at the Harwood Museum of Art, University of New Mexico, Taos, who organized the exhibition. “A place where perfection and beauty existed as spiritual absolutes.”

To know Martin’s early work helps to understand her ambition and accomplishments. Her grids did not evolve spontaneously but with years of hard work and an extensive knowledge and understanding of modern art. As Martin herself once said, “When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds there is an awareness of perfection.”

Related programs and events:

  • Agnes Martin: The New York-Taos Connection (1947-1957) with Curator Margaret Bullock
    Wednesday, January 22, 11 am
    Explore Agnes Martin’s rarely exhibited early works and understand why her works are important today. View clips of Martin to hear her speak about her art and learn about the changes her style underwent over the years. This lecture is part of Tacoma Art Museum’s Lunch & Learn series. Cost: Free with museum admission.
  • Agnes Martin Before the Grid with Jina Brenneman
    Saturday, January 25 at 2 pm
    Jina Brenneman, curator of Harwood Museum of Art in Taos New Mexico, discusses the early works of Agnes Martin and her transition to grid paintings. This lecture is part of Tacoma Art Museum’s Lunch & Learn series. Cost: Free with admission.
  • Power of Paint Workshop
    Saturday, February 15, 10 am–4 pm
    Paint your own powerful painting while learning about color blending, abstraction, and symbolism with local artist Barbara de Pirro. Cost: $160 ($140 for members), includes all supplies. Teachers can earn six clock hours.
  • Color Theory with Elise Richman
    Saturday, March 8, 2 pm
    Learn color theory from Elise Richman, Associate Professor of Art at University of Puget Sound, as you create your own artwork and explore the fundamentals of color, including hue, saturation, value, shadows, highlights, and color mixing. Cost: $35 ($25 for members) Teachers can earn three clock hours.
  • Is Less More? with Kolya Rice
    Saturday, March 22, 2 pm
    Learn about the controversial minimalist art movement that arose in the 1960s and how it continues to influence artists today. Cost: $15 ($10 for members, $5 for students)

The exhibition catalogue, Agnes Martin: Before the Grid, will be available in the Museum Store for $29.95. The catalogue features surviving paintings and drawings by Martin representing her early work from the 1940s to the emergence of the grid painting format after 1960. The first critical approach to Agnes Martin focusing on her formative years as a painter, Before the Grid offers readers the opportunity to acquire a more informed response and appreciation of one of the major American artists of the 20th century.

Agnes Martin: The New York-Taos Connection (1947–1957) was curated by Jina Brenneman, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Harwood Museum of Art, University of New Mexico, Taos. Exhibition tour made possible through the generous support of Lanny and Sharon Martin.

For press images, interviews, or more information, contact Lisa Terry at 253.272.4258 x3047 or

Tacoma Art Museum’s mission is to connect people through art. The museum serves the diverse communities of the region through its collection, exhibitions, and learning programs, emphasizing art and artists from the Northwest. Tacoma Art Museum is located in the downtown Cultural District, near the Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, and Union Station.

HOURS: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 am–5 pm, Third Thursdays 10 am–8 pm
ADMISSION: Adult $9, Student/Military/Senior (65+) $8, Family $25 (2 adults and up to 4 children under 18). Children 5 and under free. Third Thursdays free from 5-8 pm. Members always free.
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