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Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Property from an Important Private Collection
Barnett Newman (1905-1970)

Untitled

Details
Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Untitled
oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 24 1/4 in. (91.8 x 61.6 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
Provenance
The artist
Annalee Newman, New York
PaceWildenstein, New York
Evelyn D. Haas, San Francisco, 1994
Her sale; Christie's, New York, 8 May 2012, lot 6
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
J. McLean, "Of Limited Means," The Guardian, 28 June 1972, p. 12.
B. G. Paskus, "The Theory, Art and Critical Reception of Barnett Newman," Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974, pp. 74-75.
H. Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, p. 44, no. 21 (illustrated in color).
B. Richardson, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, exh. cat, Baltimore Museum of Art, 1979, p. 46.
F. Meyer, "Zur Gültigkeit des Christusbildes in der ungegenständlichen Kunst: Die Kreuzwegstationen Barnett Newmans," Kirche und Kunst, no. 2, June 1982, p. 63.
H. Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1994, p. 44, no. 21 (illustrated in color).
S. Egenhofer, The Sublime is Now: Zu den Schriften und Gesprächen Barnett Newmans, Koblenz, 1996, p. 54.
M. McNickle, "The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, pp. 182-184.
A. Zweite, "Barnett Newman: Zim Zum II 1969/85," KölnSkulptur I, exh. cat., Cologne, Skulpturenpark, 1997, p. 67.
R. Schor, "Abkürzung auf dem Weg zum Unerreichbaren: Barnett Newman und das 'schwierigste Werk des 20.Jahrhunderts' in London," Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19-20 October 2002, p. 49.
R. Schiff, C. Mancusi-Ungaro and J. Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 2004, pp. 148-149, no. 1 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art; London, Tate Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Paris, Galeries Nationales d'exposition du Grand Palais, Barnett Newman, October 1971-December 1972, pp. 48, 52 and 95, no. 1 (New York, illustrated in color); pp. 23, 30, 33 and 66, no. 1 (London, illustrated in color); pp. 10, 36, 40, 83 and 124, no. 1 (Paris, illustrated in color).
London, Hayward Gallery, Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, January-March 1978, p. 398, no. 15.38 (illustrated).
Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; Tokyo, Seibu Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Abstract Expression: The Formative Years, March-December 1978, pp. 48, 96 and 139, no. 34 (illustrated in color).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, American Painting 1930-1980, November 1981-January 1982, no. 178 (illustrated).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Saint Louis Art Museum; New York, Pace Gallery, The Sublime Is Now: The Early Work of Barnett Newman: Paintings and Drawings 1944-1949, March-November 1994, p. 20, no. 18 (illustrated in color).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnett Newman, March 2002-January 2003, p. 126, no. 11 (illustrated in color).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

Arriving at artistic maturity after the tragedies and terrors of the Second World War, Barnett Newman stands with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning as among the most significant artists of his generation. Both for his contemporaries and for younger artists, not least Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, Newman was the fulcrum around which a powerful relay of influences pivoted. In like manner, the present work Untitled, of 1945, reflects a pivotal position in the evolution of the distinctive visual vocabulary Newman would expand over the coming decade. Having destroyed all of his works on canvas made before 1945, Newman’s Untitled stands on the one hand as artwork remaindered and, on the other, as the harbinger of masterworks to come. Both an extraordinary canvas and an important example of Newman’s emerging style, Untitled, 1945, contains, remarkably, the evidence of a proto-“zip,” or as he called it, band, which marks the artist’s full maturity. Newman’s signature mark makes it first appearance, born unsurprisingly given the moment in which the idea was born. Abstract painting using the painterly gestures that mark its signature style was on the cusp of its emergence. Traces of the artist’s hand can be seen in the deep rose where pale turquoise brushstrokes coalesce into contiguous linear iterations. These colors are then carried into a wide vertical field of tactile impasto in the manner that others at the time actively engaged with paint and brush. The dense impasto that embeds the reclining “zip”—loose brush marks redolent of de Kooning’s actively gestural approach—contrasts with the open forms to the right, figured with the translucency of Rothko’s symbolic biomorphic shapes, for example, in The Source, 1945, and with color staining at its most ethereal in, No. 9, 1948. Untitled affords a glimpse into a foundational moment for Newman, the evidence of “work grow[ing] out of work,” for Untitled represents the essential originating moment out of which Newman’s subsequent oeuvre evolves.

The band itself is both vertical and softly angled, functioning as a cradle for the organic forms escaping in transparent cool-toned wisps of pinks and blues to its right. Swirling and quivering bursts of pale color float out and upward in nervous flight within a lightened area that in Newman’s later work will be blocked out in thin layers of a single pigment in varying saturations or left raw as in the artist’s stark series of black bands on canvas, The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani, 1958-1966. Newman would move away from the tactility that marked Abstract Expressionist work into open spaces of open color. But, in 1945, Newman was still engaging with remnants of representation and painterly markings. The strong black vertical in the present work ruptures at one end into a filigree of transparent angles and curves, while at the other, attenuates into a diaphanous charge of blue landscape. Newman, in effect, separates line from color, rejecting the conventions of representation and composition that defined Western European illusionism from the Renaissance. In the present work, Newman seems to detach the drawn mark from the color stains. The contour line, which is traditionally used to define shape, now functions rather as a powerful structuring element that seems to divide the picture plane in two. Yet, like the “allover” of Pollock, Newman conceives his works as whole. Deeply stunned by the retrospective exhibition of Piet Mondrian at the Museum of Modern Art in 1945, Newman dismissed the elder master’s paintings as built part-by-part, in the manner of “a systematic image.” Untitled offers no constructive system by which the two parts can be connected: they are at once discrete and whole, a “wholeness that has no parts” (B. Newman, “To Create Oneself,” Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 2004, p. 49, n. 53). As Newman would later describe, “… my paintings physically declare the area as a whole from the very beginning,” a notion that later Minimalists would take up with a vengeance in their drive toward the simplification of forms. (B. Newman, “Interview with David Sylvester (1965),” Ibid., p. 254). By 1948, this goal had been achieved in the form of his major breakthrough work, Onement I (Museum of Modern Art), in which the viewer is confronted by a central band or zip, declaring a unitary field by means of the band’s painterly handling and singleness against an open expanse of pigment. The extraordinary, if subtle, play of active versus static in Untitled is echoed in the later work, where it both divides and unites the composition: neither side of the band can stand alone; rather, both works ask to be understood as a unitary gestalt.

Newman was, as historian Richard Schiff has fully established, a “thinker who chose to develop his ideas both in painting and in writing” (R. Schiff, “Introduction,” ibid., p. xiii). Active as an art reviewer, catalogue contributor, and essayist, Newman devised the major philosophical statements informing art for this generation. By the mid-forties, he had organized a series of exhibitions, among them “Pre-Columbian Stone Sculptures” and “Northwest Coast Indian Painting,” as well as a show of Betty Parsons’ stable of artists, “The Ideographic Picture,” for which Newman penned the catalogue text. These artists, among them Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Adolph Gottlieb, were deeply committed to the parallel between “primitive” artistic symbols and the current expressiveness in art. The catalogue exhibition text suggests that current serious art was the “modern counterpart of the primitive art impulses,” such that also informed the contemporaneous work of Pollock, who would join the Parsons roster the very next year (Moon- Woman, 1942), and Rothko (The Source, 1945/1946).

While no definite subject matter can be associated with the briskly darting forms to the right of the bands in Untitled, the pictorial source of these shapes may have come from books on plants, such a John Walton’s An Introduction to the Study of Fossil Plants (1940) or Douglas Houghton Campbell’s The Evolution of the Land Plants (1940), which Newman consulted to supplement his study of botany, biology, and ornithology. Drawings of the period refer to a theme of “plant-and-seed growth” and abstract landscapes, with “hints of Gorky’s visceral-vegetable sexual pastures” (T. Hess, Barnett Newman, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, p. 45). Newman’s laconic statement, “How it went, that’s how it was,” accounts in some measure for the influence of Surrealist automatism in the present work: “My idea was that with an automatic move you could create a world” (B. Newman, in R. Schiff, op. cit., p. 51, n. 76, Thomas Hess Papers, Archives of American Art, 1968). Yet, it is the open expanse behind these figurations that generates for the artist the most striking developments of 1945. Untitled is the first large oil to emerge from the psychically charged activity of the preceding years. It reveals the artist in an act that would catalyze the remainder of his production for his lifetime. Newman had scribbled on a loose notepaper in 1944, “The history of modern painting has been a struggle against the catalogue.” Untitled, 1945, begins the “catalogue” anew.

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