Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971), Agnes Martin, 1966. Silver Print, 18 x 17 in. Gift of D. Frederick Baker from the Baker/Pisano Collection, 2012.1.50
Agnes Martin sits in her near-empty studio, resting calmly with her hands folded in her lap, staring out at the camera with an expression both alert and content. While her paint-splattered clothing suggests the active gestures of a painter, her modest gesture and sparse surroundings imply an aesthetic language of restraint. The quiet setting is blurred as the camera focuses on the figure of the artist. Martin herself is framed by the gridded back-supports of paintings that we cannot see while the lines of the floor lead our eye into the deep background of blank whites and diffuse darkness. Through its techniques of focus and composition, the photograph produces an experience analogous to the abstracting effects of Martin’s spare lines and grids. The abstracting effects of the photograph suggest the power of abstraction to exceed and undermine the potential reductions of the conventions of the photographic portrait and the classifications of the archive.