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Audio: Barnett Newman, Untitled
Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
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Property from the Estate of David Pincus
Barnett Newman (1905-1970)

Untitled

Details
Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Untitled
ink on paper
10 7/8 x 7½ in. (27.5 x 19.1 cm.)
Painted in 1945.
Provenance
Estate of the artist
Annalee Newman, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
P. Schneider, "Barnett Newman," Louvre Dialogues, New York, 1969 (1971 reprint), p. 217 (illustrated).
H. Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, no. 150 (illustrated).
P. Richard, "Sketchy Barnett Newman: A Pioneer Painter's Curious Caution," Washington Post, 20 May 1979, p. N12 (illustrated).
M. McNickle, "The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1996, p. 162.
R. Shiff, C. Mancusi-Ungaro and H. Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 2004, p. 396, no. 149 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Tate Gallery and Paris, Grand Palais, Barnett Newman, October 1971-December 1972, no. 90 (New York); p. 130, no. 60 (Amsterdam, illustrated); no. 59 (London); p. 128, no. 59 (Paris, illustrated).
Baltimore 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. 96, 98-99, no. 33 (Baltimore, illustrated); no. 33 (Amsterdam, Paris); no. 30 (Cologne, Basel).
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Saint Louis Art Museum and New York, Pace Gallery, Sublime is Now: The Early Work of Barnett Newman: Paintings and Drawings 1944-1949, March-November 1994, pp. 17 and 106, no. 29 (illustrated in color).
University Park, Pennsylvania State University, Palmer Museum of Art, Abstraction to Figuration: Selections of Contemporary Art from the Pincus Collection, July-December 1996, no. 6.
Philadelphia Museum of Art and London, Tate Gallery, Barnett Newman, March 2002-January 2003, pp. 132 and 133, no. 15 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Untitled, 1945, is central to the most significant works from the series of drawings Barnett Newman undertook during this period of renewed creativity. One of the first works to convey the hard-edged verticals created by masking tape that Newman carried into his mature production, Untitled anticipates the singular motive, the "zip," of his signature style. The use of masking tape dates to Newman's exposure to Piet Mondrian's precedent at a memorial exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1945.

The singularly compelling motifs in the present work alternate parallel straight and gently sloping vertical bands and prefigure Newman's obsession with verticality. The central V-shaped form, referred to as a "beam," can be considered, a "'streak of light' as if from the great beacon moving in the night sky" (T. Hess, quoted in B. Richardson, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, New York, p. 90). Created by painting over and then pulling off masking tape to reveal a strong vertical void, the form vigorously "declares space," using what "is between the lines" as a forceful presence that contrasts with the curved, filigreed falling forms to its immediate right and left (B. Newman, "The Problem of Subject Matter," ibid, pp. 39-41). The juxtaposition of ink-saturated and white forms against a coarse ground creates atmospheric textures as a backdrop to painterly gestures.

The aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War was a time of crisis for the generation of Abstract Expressionists who attained their mature visual language during this decade. At thirty-five years of age, Newman withdrew from the art world for a period of five years, stating many years later that a moral crisis of the world was almost too much to bear. This withdrawal was accompanied by the decision to destroy all his previous work. With a return to art in 1945, the world of primordial natural forms provided the necessary "transitional objects," as it were, and sparked an imagination already turned toward myth and metaphysics. Beyond interest in totemic symbols and archaic ideographs, Newman felt an ease and intimacy with the natural world. The elemental forms of Untitled, present a compendium of Newman's visual vocabulary to date and pulsate with the reductive, primal rhythm of biomorphic shapes, miming, perhaps, naturally occurring plants and organisms. Spare and sensuous, Untitled speaks of Newman's primitivizing impulse as well as his leap into the sublime. By 1948, Newman would produce Onement, with its consummate reduction of compositional devices within a single frame. Yet already, in Untitled, Newman has produced not only a masterful self-standing statement, but also, a work of unremitting sensuality amid a palimpsest of formal elements that inhere in his mature works.

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