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"Days of Abandon": On the first full-length biography of Agnes Martin


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Bookforum has a review of Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art by Nancy Princenthal, the first full-length biography on Martin since the legendary abstract painter died in 2004. The book explores the tensions and contradictions in the life of this uncommonly driven painter (who also suffered from schizophrenia):

Nancy Princenthal’s brisk biography Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art neatly lays out the incongruities: the Martin who insisted that nothing was more important to her than the ocean yet lived most of her life in the desert; Martin the ascetic guru, subsisting through the winter on hard cheese and walnuts and homegrown, preserved tomatoes, yet also the margarita- and steak-loving life of the party who, meeting the president and first lady to receive the National Medal of Arts award in 1998, “appreciated [Hillary Clinton’s] personality”; Martin the disciplined practitioner who woke up early every morning to paint, and who admitted, “I don’t get up in the morning until I know exactly what I’m going to do. Sometimes, I stay in bed until about three [in] the afternoon, without any breakfast.” She even had an unlikely passion for fast cars: At the book’s start, we have Rosamund Bernier’s image of Martin “flying” down the dirt road in New Mexico at the wheel of a “white BMW sedan,” and near the end, in the last year of her life, we find Martin in a “spotless” E320 Mercedes. Her art dealer, Arne Glimcher, in turn, discusses her “reckless” habits on the road (she didn’t believe in Stop signs), and recounts going eighty miles per hour with Martin in the passenger seat asking him, “Why are you driving so slow?” What’s clear here is that, despite her apparent serenity, Martin was driven.

Image: Agnes Martin. Via phaidon.com.