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Lynne Cooke on Agnes Martin

“SCARY” WAS THE WORD that Agnes Martin used to describe the small group of “black” paintings that we were surveying at PaceWildenstein gallery in New York one afternoon last May. These five anomalous canvases constituted about half the works in her exhibition “Homage to Life,” which would become, with her death on December 20, 2004, the last show she made. Dominated by viscous black acrylic; one or two simple geometric forms; and an impastoed, at times gestural, facture, these canvases from 2002–2003 seemed a radical departure from her practice over the previous four decades. Deemed too foreboding or disturbing, they were pursued no further, and she returned instead to her signature manner premised in what she identified as serenity, pleasure, beauty, and innocence. In her life as in her art, Martin knew well both ends of the emotional/spiritual spectrum, and she resolutely sought to affirm

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