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Object of the Week: Untitled #2

I hope I have made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are very far from being perfect- completely removed in fact- even as we ourselves are.1

– Agnes Martin

In 1985, Agnes Martin painted Untitled #2. In her distinctive six-feet by six-feet scale, the painting’s composition balances washes of soft color with hand-drawn horizontal graphite lines. Lean in to look closely and you can see the imperfections of a human hand drawing with pencil. Lean back and the painting surrounds you with atmospheric bands of color and space.

This poem, like the paintings, is not really about nature. It is not about what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind.2

– Agnes Martin

Martin believed that who we are shapes what we see. She thought that paintings could provide transformative and non-prescriptive experiences for the viewer. In her writings, she described that “the life of the work depends upon the observer, according to his own awareness of perfection and inspiration.”3 Rather than asking the artist, “What does this painting mean?” Martin asks the viewer to consider, “What does this painting mean to you?”

When we live our lives it’s something like a race – our minds become concerned and covered over and we get depressed and have to get away for a holiday. And then sometimes there are moments of perfection and in these moments we wonder why we ever thought life was difficult.4

– Agnes Martin

When I first saw Untitled #2 hanging in SAM’s galleries, I felt peace and wonder. The simplicity of the repeating forms encouraged me to stay still. Martin once wrote she liked a painting “because you can go in there and rest.”[5] Untitled #2 offered me that restful space––an opportunity to quiet the mind. I wonder as I write this, what this painting means to you. Is it one you walk by in the galleries or does it also draw you in? I like to imagine Martin would not care either way. She would just hope you found something that gives you a definite response, a moment of perfection, a chance to feel something new. 

Regan Pro, SAM Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement


1 Agnes Martin, Writings, Pace Gallery, 1992, p. 15.
2 Agnes Martin, Writings, Pace Gallery, 1992, p. 15.
3 Ibid, p. 32.
4 Ibid, p. 31.
5 Ibid, p. 36.
Images: Untitled #2, 1985, Agnes Martin, paintings, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72 in., Gift of The American Art Foundation, 95.39 © Agnes Martin. Waters, 1962, Agnes Martin, India ink on paper, 8 1/8 x 7 5/8 in., Gift of Margaret Smith, 84.186 © Agnes Martin. Untitled, 1963, Agnes Martin, gouache, ink, and graphite on paper, 8 7/16 x 8 1/2 in., Gift of Margaret Smith, 84.189 © Agnes Martin

Object of the Week: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper

In recognition of International Women’s Day, as well as Women’s History Month, this week we look at Mary Beth Edelson’s Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper. Printed during a historic decade of feminist activity, this 1972 lithograph takes Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper and replaces the biblical male figures with contemporary female artists. Jesus, represented instead as Georgia O’Keeffe, sits at the center of the (literal and proverbial) table alongside a number of other pioneering women artists: Miriam Schapiro, Hannah Wilke, Yoko Ono, Faith Ringgold, Lee Bontecou, Eleanor Antin, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Carolee Schneeman, Lynda Benglis, Alice Neel—the list goes on. In the spirit of this feminist work, one that gives representation to an international and overlooked roster of women, below are four quotes from four generations of feminist writers, philosophers, and activists: Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), Luce Irigaray (b. 1930), bell hooks (b. 1952), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977).

 To emancipate woman is to refuse to confine her to the relations she bears to man, not to deny them to her; let her have her independent existence and she will continue nonetheless to exist for him also: mutually recognising each other as subject, each will yet remain for the other an other. The reciprocity of their relations will not do away with the miracles—desire, possession, love, dream, adventure—worked by the division of human beings into two separate categories; and the words that move us—giving, conquering, uniting—will not lose their meaning. On the contrary, when we abolish the slavery of half of humanity, together with the whole system of hypocrisy that it implies, then the ‘division’ of humanity will reveal its genuine significance and the human couple will find its true form.

– Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952[1]  

How can I say it? That we are women from the start. That we don’t have to be turned into women by them, labeled by them, made holy and profaned by them. That that has always already happened, without their efforts. And that their history, their stories, constitute the locus of our displacement. It’s not that we have a territory of our own; but their fatherland, family, home, discourse, imprison us in enclosed spaces where we cannot keep on moving, living, as ourselves. Their properties are our exile.

– Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 1977[2]

Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

– bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics, 2000[3]

Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, 2014[4]

[1] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Knopf, 1952), 767.

[2] Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), 212.

[3] bell hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics (New York: Routledge, 2000), 123-124.

[4] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists (New York: Anchor Books, 2014), n.p.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, 1972, Mary Beth Edelson, offset lithograph, 37 1/2 in. x 20 3/4 in., Leonardo Lives Exhibition Fund, 98.14 © Mary Beth Edelson