• Sale 1997

    Post War And Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    13 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 31

    Barnett Newman (1905-1970)

    Untitled

    Price Realised  

    Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
    Untitled
    signed and dated 'Barnett Newman '69' (lower right)
    ink on paper
    59¾ x 42½ in. (151.8 x 108 cm.)
    Executed in 1969.


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    Using an austere color scheme of black ink on a supple white ground, Barnett Newman created this monumental composition in 1969. This untitled work not only stands as his most ambitious work on paper, but in many ways represents a culmination of his long and distinguished career as one of the most important abstract artists of the twentieth century. Drawing played a particularly important role in Newman's development as a painter, and the present work is a virtuoso display of his approach to art.

    As Newman himself proclaimed in 1962, "drawing is central to my whole concept" (quoted in Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, Baltimore, 1979, p. 18). Drawing, for Newman, was not simply a preparatory step in the development of his painting, but was instead analogous to it. The immediacy and directness of the act of marking a blank sheet of paper was comparable to Newman's method of composing directly on canvas instead of working out a painting's structure beforehand. Newman acknowledged that the act of drawing was integral to his paintings, and plays a central role in his most important contributions to art history. He declared that "I hope that I have contributed a new way of seeing through drawing. Instead of using outlines, instead of making shapes or setting off spaces, my drawing declares the space" (ibid.). In the present composition, figure and ground are unified in a dynamic equilibrium, where neither the passages of black ink nor the white reserve of the paper dominate, but are instead interlocked in a seemingly eternal fusion. Such formal dynamics had metaphysical connotations for Newman, who sought in abstract painting a universal language that could offer a spiritual experience for the viewer.

    Newman often turned to drawings during periods when he was searching for new forms. Working with the elemental materials of black ink on paper represented a sort of return to the fundamentals of art-making. "When an artist wants to change, when he wants to invent, Newman once said (discussing the 1948 and 1950 pictures of de Kooning and Kline), he goes to black; it is a way of clearing the table - of getting to new ideas," as Thomas Hess recalled shortly after Newman's death, (T. Hess, quoted in ibid., 13-14).

    The present work is exceptional in Newman's body of drawings due to its large scale, measuring almost five feet high, which far exceeds all his other extant works on paper. Indeed, it radiates with the same kind of presence as one of his paintings. One of only about two dozen drawings that Newman publicly displayed during his lifetime, this work is also the only extant drawing that Newman created in his final decade. He produced the drawing for a 1969 exhibition at the Graham Gallery in New York titled The Big Drawing, whose organizer offered to have a special sheet of large-scale rag paper specially made for his composition. Newman appears to have been intrigued by the unique opportunity to work on paper of this scale, and the technical challenge that it represented.

    The composition of the present drawing is closely related to Newman's renowned series of paintings The Stations of the Cross, which he worked on between 1958 and 1966 (National Gallery of Art). Each of these canvases revolved around the interaction between the white ground and black vertical shafts, Newman's signature "zips," which cut across the canvas. In these works, Newman played with black paint upon the raw surface of unprimed canvas, creating a range of contrasting textures that generate a sense of spatial complexity, much like his use of ink on the textured surface of the rag paper. Viewed as a cycle, Newman intended these works to play upon one another like various musical chords, as well as convey the notion of the stages of the spiritual trial alluded to in the title. The present work can be seen as a reprise or encapsulation of the compositional structure he explored in this work. As the eminent art historian Irving Sandler described, "Newman used black and white as the most expressive of colors. And it seems that only after that experience [creating the Stations of the Cross series] could he conceive of an ink drawing as capable of meaningful expression, of 'intensity,' and only then could he make drawings of a monumental scale such as this Drawing of 1969" (I. Sandler, quoted in ibid., p. 204).

    Although Newman focused on the pared-down form of the zip for several decades, none of his compositions in either painting or drawing was ever exactly alike. The overall symmetry together with the imposing scale of the present work imbue it with a classical stateliness, while the subtle differences between line and texture in each of the vertical passages lends a sense of dynamism. Newman elicits a range of painterly effects through the black ink, in zips that alternately emphasize the liquidity of the rich black ink versus the tension of a dry brush moving across the textured paper, and the smooth edge of a zip contrasted to others that ebb and flow.

    Provenance

    The Estate of Barnett Newman, New York
    Annalee Newman Collection, New York
    Ronald Lauder, New York
    Stephen Mazoh & Co., New York
    Mr. and Mrs. Jane and Leonard Korman, Fort Washington
    C & M Arts, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner


    Literature

    H. Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, p. 195, no. 192 (illustrated).
    I. Sandler, J. Rosenthal and V. Thorson, eds., Great Drawings of the Twentieth Century, vol. II, Tokyo, 1979, pl. 395 (illustrated in color).
    J. Russell, "Newman's Mastery of the Pen and Crayon," The New York Times, 27 May 1979, p. D25.
    R. Shiff, et. al., Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 2004, pp. 448-449 (illustrated in color).


    Exhibited

    New York, Graham Gallery, The Big Drawing, April-May 1969.
    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle and Bremen, Kunsthalle, Twentieth-Century American Drawing: Three Avant-Garde Generations, January-August 1976, p. 86, no. 138, (illustrated).
    New York, Xavier Fourcade, Works on Paper, Small Format, Objects: Duchamp to Heizer, February-March 1977.
    The Baltimore Museum of Art; The Detroit Institute of Arts; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; Cologne, Museum Ludwig and Basel, Kunstmuseum, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, April 1979-July 1981, pp. 204-205, no. 83 (illustrated).
    New York, Stephen Mazoh & Co., Inc., Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Works of Art, Spring 1987, p. 16 (illustrated).
    New York, L&M Arts, Elemental Form, October-December 2006, p. 81 (illustrated).