Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1957–1975

Hayward Gallery

Hayward Gallery, 2 March – 24 April 1977

By June 1976, when the Hayward Gallery decided to mount an exhibition of the American artist Agnes Martin’s paintings and drawings, Martin had not yet had a major exhibition in Europe, and few of her paintings had been seen in the UK.

The exhibition – which ran concurrently with exhibitions by British painter Ian Stephenson and American photographer Edward Weston – took place on the upper floor of the gallery.

Of the 49 works on show, dating between 1957 and 1975, there were 20 paintings, 27 watercolours and drawings, and two constructions.

Writing in the accompanying catalogue, the American critic Dore Ashton described Martin’s work as ‘emotionally precise ... executed with the greatest finesse. Their surfaces, almost veils of thinned acrylics, are full of vitality achieved with an economy of means that defies words’, while Martin herself stated that they are ‘about freedom from the cares of the world’.

Joanna Drew's foreword to the exhibition in the accompanying catalogue.

Many of the works on show were extremely fragile, as indicated here in this internal memo. A long low platform was built along the walls of the upper galleries in order to prevent viewers from coming too close to Martin’s delicate and intimate artworks.

Draft letter to potential lenders from the Arts Council's Joanna Drew.

This first major European showing of Agnes Martin’s work was enthusiastically received by the press. Many of the reviewers commented on the space in which the paintings were hung. Michael Shepherd stated that ‘The Hayward Gallery, which can on occasion look like a garrison for the defence of ego, is until April 24 transformed into a very contemporary temple of contemplation’.

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