PRINT Summer 2015

Glenn Ligon

AGNES MARTIN’S Rose, 1966, is a six-foot-square field of cream-colored acrylic overlaid with a lightly penciled grid. Installed in a room chockablock with Abstract Expressionist, Color Field, and Minimalist works at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the painting asserts a serene presence, sending out, as Walt Whitman once wrote, “secret and divine signs.”

A teenager standing next to me while I gaze at the painting wonders aloud why it is titled Rose when it’s not rose-colored at all. She has forgotten that the flower comes in many hues, including pale yellows and creamy whites, and that in English the word rose is synonymous with arose, the color of the canvas suggestive of pallid morning light as well as of flowers. The title sparks many other allusions. For example, the “rosy-fingered dawn” in Homer, Gertrude Stein’s famous “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” and Juliet’s

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