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  • Jul 08, 2024

Sorol Art Museum Presents Agnes Martin’s First Solo Exhibition in Korea

Exterior of the Sorol Art Museum in Gangneung, Korea. Courtesy the Sorol Art Museum.

Sorol Art Museum, inaugurated in Gangneung, South Korea, last February, was designed by Meier Partners. It showcases the architectural design and philosophy of modern master architect Richard Meier, known for his distinctively white buildings that generously incorporate natural light. Sorol Art Museum, a new cultural landmark in Korea, offers opportunities for both citizens and tourists to enjoy nature and experience world-class art exhibitions.

From May 4th to August 25th, Sorol Art Museum presents the exhibition “Agnes Martin: Moments of Perfection,” the first museum-scale exhibition in Korea of the artist. Agnes Martin (1912–2004), a Canadian-born American artist, has been a prominent figure in American art since the 1950s. This exhibition features 54 of Martin’s significant works and offers viewers a glimpse into the artist’s journey of meditative painting, culminating in perfection. The realization of this exhibition was made possible through collections of the esteemed international institutions such as the Leeum Museum of Art in Korea, the National Museum of Art in Osaka and the Nagoya City Art Museum in Japan, Whitney Museum of American Art and Dia Art Foundation in New York, as well as the Pace Gallery and the George Economou Collection. Frances Morris, the director emerita of Tate Modern in London participated as a guest curator.

Agnes Martin’s pursuit of pure abstraction was informed by Zen Buddhism and Taoism, which she engaged with from her student years. Her abstract works coincide with the development of monochrome painting (Dansaekhwa) in Korea, and audiences will for the first time be able to focus on Martin’s work from an Eastern perspective.

This exhibition begins its exploration of Martin’s career in 1955, when she began to shed obvious figurative references from her compositions. Her painting moved from a vocabulary of organic and biomorphic shapes to a more formal and geometric language, often featuring circles, triangles, and rectangles. By the end of the 1950s, Martin had removed all figurative references from her compositions and was experimenting with different linear and grid formats. The Tree (1964) is among her most radical and minimal works from this period.

Installation view of "Agnes Martin: Moments of Perfection," in the Sorol Art Museum’s Gallery 2. Courtesy the Sorol Art Museum, the Estate of Agnes Martin, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York – SACK, Seoul.

In 1967, Martin stopped painting for over half a decade, leaving New York to travel alone before retreating to the relative solitude of New Mexico. On her return to the studio in 1974 she worked in much the same manner for the next three decades until her death in 2004. During these decades Martin found her imagery through what she called “inspiration,” the images for her paintings coming to her through a form of meditation. While standardizing the size of her canvases and reducing her tools and materials to a minimum she found “perfection” in the infinite number of variations she could achieve. In 1973, before her return to the studio in 1974, she created On A Clear Day. Consisting of a portfolio of 30 screen prints, the work marked a significant transition in Martin’s artistic career, both in terms of form and content.

The extensive series of gray-monochrome canvases that Martin painted between 1977 and 1992 are among the most enigmatic and beautiful of her works. A careful selection of eight contrasting canvases will represent and evoke the myriad formal, tonal, and textual variations Martin achieved within her self-imposed restrictions.

Paintings from the last decade of Martin’s life provide a final focus to the exhibition. In 1993 Martin moved into a retirement home in Taos, New Mexico, and while continuing to visit her studio every day she worked on a slightly reduced scale more suited to her diminishing physical strength. Martin often spoke of how her late images were conceived during moments of quiet meditation. Innocent Love (1999) represents the last and probably the most sustained serial works in Martin’s career. In contrast to the opacity of so many of the gray paintings, her Innocent Love paintings are both translucent and luminescent, with joyous, celebratory titles.

Installation view of "Agnes Martin: Moments of Perfection," in the Sorol Art Museum’s Gallery 3. Courtesy the Sorol Art Museum, the Estate of Agnes Martin, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York – SACK, Seoul.

Martin’s distinctive and mesmerizing studio practice was captured by filmmaker Mary Lance in a remarkable film made in Martin’s studio in 2003. This film is shown alongside the exhibition, along with the artist’s beautiful writing that reflect her contemplation and insight into life and art.

Additionally, Sorol Art Museum presents “In Dialog: Chung Sang-Hwa,” alongside the exhibition of Agnes Martin. “In Dialog” is an exhibition project designed to connect international and Korean art. Chung Sang-Hwa, representative of Dansaekhwa, Korea’s monochrome abstract painting movement, offers a significant counterpart to Martin’s body of work for several reasons. While Martin expressed her pure spirituality through the subtle language of her paintings, Dansaekhwa, emphasizing performativity, emerged as a pivotal movement alongside avant-garde experimental art.  “In Dialog” illuminates Chung Sang-Hwa’s refined monochrome paintings created from the 1970s to the 2010s, juxtaposing his artistic achievements with those of Agnes Martin.

Installation view of "In Dialog: Chung Sang-Hwa," in the Sorol Art Museum’s Gallery 1. Courtesy Sorol Art Museum and Chung Sang-Hwa.

* This post is presented by Sorol Art Museum.

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