Agnes Martin A Closeted American Painter

Agnes Martin’s paintings was presented at Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, USA October 2010 – February 2011, where themes such as queer sexuality and fluidity of gender and identity for the first time was addressed at a national art institution in USA. The queer story of these artists and their artworks had been hidden in plain sight for many years… Now this exhibition has put some light on a selection of queer American artists, which might be called the Canon of Queer American Art.

The Two Stories
As Agnes Martin (1912 – 2004) was a closeted painter, who made it in the mainstream art world, at least two kind of stories can be told about her. The mainstream non-sexual story, and the (hidden) queer story about her life and art projects.

Agnes Martin was part of a generation, which questioned abstraction in the 1950s and 1960s. Curator Leah Dickerman says that Agnes Martins works are “A commentary on the ambitions of a technological society in which regularity and standardization are key… And here she uses the grid and yet, what she gets you to focus on are the subtle variations in making the grid. She is drawing attention to the very ability, which is inherent in human production.”

The Sexuality of Abstraction: Agnes Martin

In the above video Jonathan D. Katz, is presenting his paper “The Sexuality of Abstraction: Agnes Martin” on January 29, 2011 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, USA. His presentation was part of the scholarly symposium “Addressing (and Redressing) the Silence: New Scholarship in Sexuality and American Art” in conjunction with the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

Jonathan talks about Zen as a key to Agnes Martin’s model of personal liberation. She was a part of the Zen/minimalist movement in American art and culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Agnes Martin got her career breakethrough in the art world in the early 1960s while sharing her life with a group of queer friends. Though Agnes Martin was not a Buddhist, Jonathan describes her as an enligtend heremit, who in a very positive way used Zen as a philosophy and strategy to deal with the ‘closet’. Agnes Martin created a transcendentalism by combining the spiritual and her lesbian sexuality.

About Jonathan Katz
Jonathan D. Katz is director of the doctoral program in visual studies at the State University of New York—Buffalo; an honorary research faculty member at the University of Manchester, UK; co-curator of the exhibition ―Hide/Seek‖; and co-author of its accompanying book. He was founding director of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University and founding chair of the very first department of lesbian and gay studies in the United States, at City College of San Francisco. Here, he also co-founded the activist group Queer Nation, San Francisco, and founded both the Queer Caucus of the College Art Association and the Harvey Milk Institute.

Modern Women – Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art

The opera lovers shout ‘Bravo!’ when they have heard a great opera aria. Eso!! the tango dancers’ acclamation, was the first thought that came to me, when I learned that MoMA has started looking the role, which women has played in the history of Museum of Modern Art in New York and realized that the MoMA has neglected telling the story about the female (feminist) artists. After 5 years of research they have published a richly illustrated art book/lexicon titled: Modern Women – women artists at the Museum of Modern Art. 48 scollars have contributed to the book with essays about women artists.

Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art
The landmark publication ‘Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art’, in which the museum now openly discusses gender issues, and how instrumental women have been in advancing the arts to where they are today, is the greatest piece of art news, which I have heard in 2010. – Now the museum is finally taking all the feminist artists, who have voiced their concern about the museums (subconscious or deliberate) strategy of giving more space and attention to male artists than women artists, seriously.

Works of art made by women (straight, lesbian, queer, white, black, or…) tell very interesting stories. Stories, which shouldn’t be forgotten by the museums and the main stream art world. The fact that MoMA, which is a role model for many museums, is about to set a new standard makes me smile and dance at my computer.

In the video below you can hear Michelle Elligott, museum activist and researcher talk about her work with the book Modern Women – women artists at the Museum of Modern Art.

I haven’t got my copy of the book yet, but I have had a quick look at book’s index of artists, (the “MoMA the hall of fame of female artists”), and I have picked the following artists, which may be of interest to lesbian and queer art lovers:

BERENICE ABBOTT (USA, 1898 – 1991), SADIE BENNING (USA, born 1973), CLAUDE CAHUN (France 1894 – 1954), LEONOR FINI (Italy, 1907 – 1996), SU FRIEDRICH (USA, born 1954), EILEEN GRAY (Ireland, 1878, 1976), GUERRILLA GIRLS (American group of radical feminist artists founded in 1985),
BARBARA HAMMER (USA, born 1939), HANNAH HÖCH (Germany, 1889 – 1978), FRIDA KAHLO (Mexico, 1907 – 1954), KÄTHE KOLLWITZ (Germany 1867 – 1945), GERMAINE KRULL (1897 – 1985), AGNES MARTIN (Canada, 1912 – 2004), TINA MODOTTI (Italy, 1896 – 1942), GEORGIA O’KEEFFE (USA, 1887 – 1986), EMILY ROYSDON (USA, 1977), CINDY SHERMAN (USA, born 1954), JOAN SNYDER (USA, born 1940), GINGER BROOKS TAKAHASHI (USA, born 1977), and RIDYKEULOUS (an American collaborative art project founded by A.L. Steiner and Nicole Eisenman).

For more details go to the list of all the artists in the book at MoMA’s website.

Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art
Cornelia Butler (Editor, Introduction), Alexandra Schwartz (Editor), Griselda Pollock (Introduction)
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: The Museum of Modern Art, New York (June 30, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 087070771X
ISBN-13: 978-0870707711