Kunstsammlung NRW
Auf dem Weg zur Tate Modern: Außenwerbung zur Ausstellung "Agnes Martin", Foto: Kunstsammlung

Agnes Martin: A Trip around the World - London, Düsseldorf, Los Angeles, New York

A painting goes on a journey: in early June, before going on tour, including a stop at the Kunstsammlung am Grabbeplatz, a major exhibition featuring the works of the US-American artist Agnes Martin opens in London. Revered by connoisseurs, the oeuvre of this extraordinary painter still remains largely unknown to a broad public in Germany.  

Curator Maria Müller-Schareck, who is preparing the Düsseldorf station of the exhibition, traveled to London with the painting Untitled #5 London, and sent this report to #32 on the installation of the exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Foyer of Tate Modern, photo: Kunstsammlung

A painting goes on a journey…

The start of my multi-day encounter with the paintings, drawings, and prints of Agnes Martin, assembled in the Tate Modern to form the first comprehensive retrospective to follow the artist's death in 2004, was of course my journey to London. I undertook the trip as a courier for the painting Untitled #5 (1998) from the collection of the Kunstsammlung – for seldom is one of our pictures allowed to travel out into the world on its own. As a rule, it is accompanied by one of our conservators, and in some instances by a registrar or curator as well. In every case, it is a question of ensuring that the work reaches its destination undamaged. When I arrive at the monumental building that houses the Tate Modern, the transport crate – now well acclimatized – is already waiting in the exhibition galleries on the third level.

Good Morning: Arrival in London

The Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen is a partner in this exhibition tour, which encompasses four venues, and will present the show at the K20 from November 7, 2015 until March 6, 2016. In London, our picture is of one of the first to find its place, and moreover in the very first gallery. Still dominating the scene are crates of pictures, tools, electric drills and battery-powered screwdrivers, water levels, along with inventories and plans for the 12 galleries – joined at times by up to 30 employees and colleagues. Calmly and imperturbably, the various teams work in tandem: the art packers, who disassemble the crates, freeing the pictures from their transport frames; the conservators, who – in conjunction with the couriers – examine the delicate surfaces of each work with the utmost care before logging the results; the exhibition’s curators, Frances Morris, Tiffany Bell, and Lena Fritsch, responsible for deciding how the works are to be grouped in the space, coordinated in relation to one another, the distances separating one work from the next – all of this, moreover, even before all scheduled works are physically present and have been sent to their intended galleries.

From Crate to Wall:The Arrival of the Hanging Team

Then comes the hanging team, whose members must select the right apparatus for each painting, drawing, or object before installing it with the help of level, measuring stick, pencil, etc. An installation of this kind is a logistic challenge: everything must arrive at the right place at the right time, otherwise, the entire schedule quickly becomes topsy-turvy. Four days are allocated for the installation process, which ultimately stretches out to five: a transport flight from Newark is canceled, and its valuable freight arrives later than expected (but then, such contingencies are to be expected).

Setting up "Untitled #5", part of the collection of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, acquired in 2011, photo: Kunststammlung

Dallas, Zürich, Bielefeld: An Encounter between Curators from around the World

Meeting during this period as well are colleagues from the lending museums, gallery representatives, and private collectors from New York, Houston, Dallas, New Haven, Vienna, Zürich, Bielefeld, and Amsterdam. They exchange news concerning their respective institutions, and of course discuss the artist and the exhibition, so long in planning. In addition, colleagues from the Tate inform the others about their educational and accompanying programs, as well as about press-related activities.

For me, the focus of these few days is the intensive study of the works themselves, of these paintings and drawings, in an attempt to fathom their impact while giving careful consideration to their eventual installation in Düsseldorf.

Everything in Its Place: The Exhibition Opens in London

Finally, on June 2, 2015, everything is in its proper place: the works, beautifully illuminated, the benches, the picture labels, the wall texts and quotes, photos of the artist, accompanying booklets for visitors; on display in the museum shop are exhibition catalogs, postcards, and prints. The first public guided tour is reserved for journalists; the second for lenders and invited guests, among them many local artists; present on the third evening, finally, are the guests at the opening reception. Now, the exhibition is open to visitors from June 3rd to October 11th.

Soon to follow will be “moving day” to Düsseldorf. Fans of the artist might want to mark the Düsseldorf opening in their calendars: Friday, November 6, 2015, 7 PM!

Agnes Martin at her studio, New Mexico, 1992, photo: Charles R. Rushton