Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Oil and colored pencil on linen
Overall: 72 × 72 1/4 in. (182.9 × 183.5 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund
Rights and Reproductions Information
© 2009 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Milk River exemplifies Agnes Martin’s signature compositional style, which coalesced in the late 1950s, as well as the standard 6-foot square format that she used for all of her paintings until 1993. Martin’s canvases are structured with symmetrical, repetitive linear elements that are highly controlled, and yet resolutely handmade and grounded in the impulses of drawing. In this work, a central square is framed by two borders. The outermost border is plain canvas, while the second is made of mottled paint, softening the transition to the large white inner square. The center square is patterned with red horizontal pencil lines that the artist incised into the thin layer of white paint using a taut string as a guide. The lines’ repetitive quality creates a strong sense of systematic and geometric order, but because they are hand-drawn, each one differs slightly in emphasis and weight. Milk River—like all of Martin’s paintings and drawings—is not, therefore, as minimal as it first appears. Rather, its subtle modulations and linear irregularities invite the viewer to engage in intimate, careful contemplation.