Piece by piece
When a column looking at locally seen artworks one piece at a time came up, we planned to start with one of 10 Diane Arbus photographs temporarily installed at the Columbus Museum of Art. A concern over reprint rights scrapped that idea, but the museum's curators had another work to suggest, a recent, major acquisition that challenges not just its viewers, but also our printers.
The white square seen here is as close as newsprint can come to representing Agnes Martin's Wind, a paint-and-pencil canvas that's a gift from Arne Glimcher, founder of uber-prestigious Pace Gallery in New York and brother of local developer Herb Glimcher.
"This is the ultimate tough painting," said museum director Nannette Maciejunes. "This is the kind of painting that makes people who don't look at a lot of paintings go, 'What the hell is this?' But, you know, it's an incredible painting, actually."
In person, this 1961 work measures six square feet and incorporates slightly varying shades of white under a centered, carefully penciled grid that's striking in its size, density and meticulousness.
Joined by senior curator Catherine Evans, Maciejunes offered some historical context. Following the rise of Jackson Pollock and the rest of the Abstract Expressionists after WWII, the inevitable backlash to the movement's dripping paint and pure emotion came in two primary forms. Pop art brought recognizable figures back in style, and intellectually driven minimalism sought to create something, in Maciejunes words, "regimented and replicable. It's a conscious suppression of the hand of the artist."
Working in a world and on a scale still owned by male artists, Martin added a feminist twist to the work of her minimalist predecessors.
" It has this delicacy of execution and this intensity of work," Maciejunes said. "Anything that was called 'women's work' tended to be this laborious, handmade thing, so she picks up on that and casts it on a kind of heroic scale of painting.
"Martin was also reacting to this suppression of the hand of the artist," she added. "She wanted to reintroduce it. So all those little imperfections, all those little distinctive marks that come from a human being, that's what's embedded in this painting.
"The other challenge with the picture is, you can photograph it, but you can't appreciate that. It demands we spend time with it. It slows you down and makes you really look, and that's what I like about it."
Evans added, "If you give something to it, it gives back."
Agnes Martin, 1961
On view at the Columbus Museum of Art