Walked into Pace Chelsea on a Tuesday, quiet early afternoon, turned left toward the first work, a large gray canvas. (I later discovered it was Untitled -hardly surprising- #5, (for some cataloging convenience?))
Nothing. Agnes Martin makes one work. Empty mind. Settle. Take in a little air. The canvas is pebbly gray and divided into nine equal horizontals by Martin’s characteristic freehand utterly straight pencil lines. Leave the mystery of “how?” aside for a moment or perhaps remember Basil’s favorite story about Giotto drawing a perfect circle in one line to prove his ability to a pope. These lines seem untrapped by adherence to any mechanical aid, but plum straight and sensual: a hand and a thick graphite pencil lead.
Martin totally requires that one empty one’s mind. As time drops away, the gray blooms. Shades of gray, colors of gray: lavenders, mauves, pale dirty blues. The nine panels populate. Not water. Not sea. This is dry lands stretching to low mountains and framed by low clouds, each different, each changing.
I walked up close. Pebbled surface has become stony with detail. I stepped further away. The panels shifted again. The forms could be a dance but not a story. No narrative, no nothing but a Shaker tune in my head, measured single notes. A prolonged ahhhh.
There were many other Agnes Martin paintings in the giant gallery—and no other visitors. No moving bodies or sudden introduction of heads and shoulders or conversation. Only two tall young black men, cool in their security uniforms. I saw how big a show it is and how much variety in use of lines and rows. But I couldn’t go further. It seemed absurd to wrench myself away from this single work, from my immersion in it, just so I could begin the process with another. I’m not consuming for pete’s sake. I’ve come to have exactly what I am having.
I went on standing there until body, my old friend, began to clamor for a pee. Well damn. I pulled away, exited through glass doors to the narrow lobby, to bright 26th Street, trucks, sunshine, tourists carrying blazing brilliant shopping bags. Couldn’t stop myself from saying “what a trip” to no one at all.
No story. Only what is seen remains.