I was friends with Barney Newman. We’d talk about Picasso, who was a good painter because he worked hard. But he had a lot of goofy ideas. I liked Andy Warhol, but I was afraid of his friends.
Agnes Martin, 2003
New York art dealer Betty Parsons, whose list of artists included leading abstract painters Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, encountered Martin’s paintings in Taos and offered to represent her if she moved to New York City. In 1957, Martin moved to a sailmaker’s loft in the now legendary neighbourhood of Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. This run-down docklands area had been colonised by a community of young artists in need of cheap studio and living space.
The paintings and objects in this room show how Martin’s work flourished within the New York art scene. In her paintings she began to depict simple geometric forms such as squares, rectangles and circles as well as a range of linear marks and dots, often repeated across the surface. This development was informed by her experiments with different materials, including nails, wood and small found objects.
I made a construction with the heads of three thousand nails that I fixed onto boards…When they took down the steel houses that used to be on the docks, there were some steel bolts with rotted heads; these are what I used, the first one I called Garden.
Martin’s neighbours included Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Leonore Tawney amongst others. Barnett Newman, who later hung her exhibitions at Betty Parsons, also had a studio nearby. Martin soon became part of a lively and mutually stimulating art scene and made enduring friendships. In December 1958, Betty Parsons presented Martin’s work in a solo exhibition, attracting notice from the art world.