From the American Southwest, Art That Transcends Time

By Leslie Camhi  •  October 16, 2018

A new exhibit at Pace Gallery in California and New York follows the thread connecting 20th-century painter Agnes Martin and 19th-century Navajo weavers.

When she was in her 80s, painter Agnes Martin remembered Macklin—the Canadian town on the Western edge of the Saskatchewan prairie where she was born in 1912 and spent the first few years of her life—as being “so flat you could see the curvature of the earth.” A similar sense of infinite recession and the limits of visibility inform the signature grids that she painted while residing in New Mexico from 1968 until her death in 2004. Large in scale, the abstract works are at once mathematically disciplined and strikingly ethereal.

Now Pace Gallery, which represented Martin from 1975 until her death in 2004 and currently handles the artist’s estate, is presenting “Agnes Martin/Navajo Blankets.” The exhibition, on view at the gallery’s Palo Alto, California, location and opening in New York on November 4, pairs a selection of Martin’s grid paintings with rare examples of 19th-century “chief-style” blankets handwoven by Navajo women working on vertical looms, set up outside or in their homes. All the blankets come from a single private collection.

The two bodies of work, separated by over a century, share certain formal properties, such as horizontal banding and exquisite coloration. The Navajo weavers drew their dyes, such as cochineal and indigo, from the surrounding countryside, and the luminosity and subtle gradations of color of the American Southwest have long been cited as an influence on Martin’s painting.

But Martin herself rejected any association of her oeuvre with landscape. “My work is anti-nature,” she wrote. Giving her works titles such as Affection and Blessings, this late-blooming Abstract Expressionist wanted to shift the viewer’s focus away from representational art and toward interior states of exaltation. For the Navajo weavers, too, the external beauty of their work was secondary to its hózhó, the balance and internal harmony experienced by each weaver along the path of its creation. In both cases, one must look beyond the surface resemblance of the works to reach a deeper spiritual meaning.

“Agnes Martin has been such a fundamental artist to Pace for over 40 years, and it has been incredibly rewarding and enlightening to examine her work through a new lens,” says Pace Gallery President and CEO Marc Glimcher. “What this exhibition asserts so clearly is the idea that the meditative practice of art making has been integral to women artists throughout history, even if they weren’t always recognized as such. Here are two prime examples of how meditations on perfection and balance can inspire society at large and be impactful forces for introspection and transcendence.”


See “Agnes Martin/Navajo Blankets” at Pace Gallery in Palo Alto, just fifteen minutes from Rosewood Sand Hill, through Oct 28, 2018. Or see it in New York, twenty-five minutes from The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, from November 14 through December 22, 2018. Want to see the source of inspiration for both Martin and the Navajo weavers? Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, nine minutes from Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, is a great place to start. 

Pace Gallery Palo Alto: 229 Hamilton Avenue; +1 650-561-4076

Pace Gallery New York: 537 West 24th Street; +1 212-421-3292

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture: 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe; +1 505-476-1269

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Written By: Leslie Camhi


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