UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Work and the work of art : Agnes Martin, 1959–1964 Lo, Siwin


Agnes Martin's grids confound easy classification. Each is a six-foot square consisting only of horizontal and vertical lines arranged in stable, rhythmic patterns that emphasize no one portion of the canvas over another. In 1960, the grid emerges from the wall, from the canvas, and from Martin’s own hair and clothing. The artist herself retreats, sheathing herself in the very same graphic strategy that she commits to in the decades of painting to come. Yet, there is ample visual evidence that she was already exploring aspects of this final form in two 1959 works, both Untitled, that demonstrate Martin’s exploration of detail’s relationship to viewing distance and an awareness of the grapheme’s ability to testify to the labour of artwork. An examination of this rigorous disciplinary process offers a means of considering artistic labour as a form of resistance to the elision of human labour time inherent in capitalist modes of production. By addressing abstract labour under capital through an analysis of the painterly abstraction of Martin’s artistic practice, this study aims to demonstrate the critical potential of formal analysis by means of two major interventions into recent Marxist theory. The first addresses a lacuna within Marx’s own definition of the work of art. The second involves a repurposing of Italian feminist theory on housework to address the slippages of meaning within artwork that can act as potential moments of resistance to the logic of industrial capitalist production.

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