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Agnes Martin was born in 1912 in Maklin, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Vancouver. In 1932 she moved to the United States, living in Washington and Oregon until 1940. Martin studied at Western Washington State College, Bellingham, and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She received BS and MA degrees from the Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, and taught at numerous public schools. She became a U.S. citizen in 1950.
Martin lived and taught periodically in New York in the 1940s and early 1950s ans settled there in 1957, where her friends and neighbors included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman. In 1958 her first solo show took place at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. By the late 1950s Martin’s landscape and figurative watercolors, surrealistic oils, and three-dimensional sculptural objects were supplanted by highly simplified abstractions. These mature works—distinguished by their square format, grids, lines drawn on canvas, and monochromatic color with subtle variations in hue—have been an important influence for younger artists. In 1966 her work was included in the exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim as representative of the Minimalist art current in New York.
After Martin left New York and moved to Cuba, New Mexico, in 1967, she did not paint for seven years. She returned to painting in 1974 and produced a number of works in which she replaced neutral tones with brighter color. She exhibited regularly from this time on. Major traveling exhibitions of her work have been organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (1973), Hayward Gallery in London (1977), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1991), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1993), and Dia:Beacon in Beacon, New York (2004). Her writings were published in 1992 in conjunction with an exhibition of her work at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, and again in 2005. She was honored with, among other awards, the Oskar Kokoschka Prize (1992), Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (1997), National Medal of Arts from the Office of the President (1998). Martin died in Taos, New Mexico, in 2004.