Having traveled from coast to coast for exhibition in New York City, Pace Gallery’s current show examined the shared aesthetic space of painter Agnes Martin and the meticulously crafted blankets of the Navajo (Diné) people of the American Southwest touches down for a striking last show of 2018. The exhibition, which explores the shared use of parallel lines and tight grid-work in both the painter’s canvas and the blanket-maker’s loom, makes for a fascinating investigation of two aesthetically distinct visions that found their most compelling articulation amongst the landscape of the American desert.
Most of the woven works in the exhibition were created in the form of the “chief-style” blankets by Navajo women working on indigenous vertical looms in their homes. Developed beginning in the 1750s, this bold-banded style worn around the shoulders by both men and women became a popular object of trade to high-level members of other tribes, military officers, and travelers throughout the American West, Southwest, and Northern Plains. By the mid-19th century, the Navajo chief blanket was one of the most valued garments in the world, with its designs including four inter-figured phases, defined by their increasingly elaborate banding, coloration, and placement of foreground motifs. The chief blankets in this exhibition span the full range from first through fourth phases plus unusual variants. They and several classic serapes, dresses, and mantas (shawls) represent exceptionally rare examples of each type, rivaling museum and private collections worldwide. Imbued with a deep spiritual resonance and placed at the center of the culture’s various modes and movements, the blankets reflect the Diné people’s internal mythologies and views of the world.
By comparison, Martin’s well-documented interest in the sublime, and the potential for its exploration through her canvases, relies on a similar mode of tight parallels and grid-based painting operations. Her pieces, relying on gentle colors and straight lines, delve deep into the space of transcendence and illusion to present their energy. While Martin took no direct inspiration from the aesthetics of Navajo weaving in her approach to painting, she spent much of her life in New Mexico, and the region’s cultural history and artistic production suffused her experience. Using a limited color palette and a geometric vocabulary, her works are inscribed with lines, grids, or simple shapes that hover over subtle grounds of color. Maximizing the strength of pure abstraction, she explored space, metaphysics, and internal emotional states throughout her practice. Her works are carefully balanced, and negotiate the space of the canvas as a site from which the viewer’s eye can delve ever deeper, until its mooring elements disappear, leaving the viewer swimming in a space beyond the known world.
The exhibition closes December 22nd.
— C. Reinhart
Pace Gallery [Exhibition Site]