Barnett Newman 1905-1970
New York, NY, United States
Barnett Newman was one of the most profound and influential painters of the 20th century. A master of expansive spatial effects and richly evocative color, he pioneered an art that was both uncompromisingly abstract and powerfully emotive. This retrospective exhibition assembles more than 100 works not seen together in over 30 years. It traces the dramatic shifts in Newman’s practice from his Surrealist-inspired drawings of the 1940s, through his development of the trademark vertical stripe he would dub “the zip,” and finally to the groundbreaking shaped canvases he produced in his last years.
Born in 1905 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Newman was a lifelong New Yorker who studied at the Art Students League and the City College of New York. A close friend of the artists Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Jackson Pollock, Newman was at the center of the New York art scene just as Abstract Expressionism was ascending to prominence in the early 1950s. In spite of the important role he played during the formative years of the New York School, Newman achieved recognition for his own work only late in his career, after decades of struggle. In the 1960s he served as an unofficial father figure to the emerging generation of minimalist and conceptual artists.
Despite the apparent simplicity of his signature motif, “the zip,” Newman’s art is a richly complicated one. The exhibition explores the full breadth of his achievements, including such masterpieces as his breakthrough painting Onement I of 1948, the series Stations of the Cross (1958-1966), and the monumental sculpture Broken Obelisk (1967). The National Gallery of Art, the Menil Collection, and the Museum of Modern Art, each numbering among the few museums where Newman’s work is concentrated, have given key loans.