Exhibited at London’s Tate Modern in 2015 and subsequently at the LACMA and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, the Agnes MARTIN (1912-2004)retrospective is currently on the long spiral ramp of New York’s Guggenheim Museum in a much visited and still highly topical exhibition (7 October 2016 – 11 January 2017). And, in parallel to Martin’s museum exposure, the auction market’s appetite for her ‘visual experiences’ is stronger than ever before.
According to Tracey Bashkoff, curator of the Guggenheim’s exhibition, happiness, unity and joy are the three notions that best define Agnes Martin. Her work, rigorously abstract and wonderfully understated, seems imbued with Asian philosophy, including Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Her delicate lines, brushstrokes and tones seem to vibrate on the canvas, with repetitive motifs generating meditative and ascetic spaces that are conducive to what the artist called “abstract emotions” such as joy, love, the experience of innocence, freedom, beauty and perfection. Agnes Martin’s visual serenity began to emerge in the 1940s when she decided to devote herself to art full-time. At the time she was creating biomorphic abstractions which nowadays are completely absent from the secondary market market but which can be seen in the current retrospective. Of Canadian nationality, Martin left New Mexico for New York in 1957 where her painting changed radically towards a simplification of forms, geometric purity and large formats. After 10 years in New York, she stopped producing art for seven years, and then embarked on an energetic artistic career until her death in Taos, New Mexico, in 2004.
Today, Agnes Martin’s initial radical works created in New York are considered of historical importance. They are her most sought-after works and her most expensive on the auction market. One of them, Orange Grove, dated 1965, set her latest auction record just a few months before the Guggenheim retrospective: « Orange Grove » fetched just under $10.7 million on 10 May 2016 at Christie’s in New York, burying her previous record (in November 2013) by more than $4 million. Clearly the majestic simplicity of her work is just as popular in sales rooms as in museums. An icon of American Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism (with its spiritual dimension), Agnes Martin has been appreciated as an important figure in American art history. However, this past year she has become a major reference for the art market. On 15 November last, a canvas (Untitled #6) from the early 1980s fetched $6.7 million (her second best auction result after Orange Grove) at Christie’s in New York. Indeed, 2016 has been Agnes Martin’s best-ever year in terms of auction turnover with a total of $26 million, compared with $17 million in 2015. The price inflation – confirmed by an over 200% increase in her price index since the year 2000 – has been very welcome to owners of her work… as long as they also possess the right certificate of authenticity…
As of 1975, Agnes Martin was supported by the prestigious Pace Gallery in New York. Today, the founder of the Pace Gallery, Arne Glimcher, represents the estate of Agnes Martin and is a member of the authentication committee of the company “Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné LLC”, the only entity entitled to register works in Agnes Martin’s catalogue raisonné and thus to allow circulation of her work on the international market as ‘original works’. In October 2016, Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné LLC received a lawsuit from the London’s Mayor Gallery after it denied authentication for thirteen works already sold by the Mayor Gallery (The Art Newspaper, Laura Gilbert, London’s Mayor Gallery files lawsuit against Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné, 25 October, 2016)… In the meantime, the Mayor Gallery has promised to reimburse the buyers of the works for a total of $7.2 million, but it wants the AMCR’s authentication committee to cover the amount in damages. In any case, if these works has been accepted by the authentication committee, it is certain that Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips would have been eager to offer them for sale since Martin’s market has never been so buoyant.