Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

20 Barnett Newman

Donald Judd

Barnett Newman's paintings are some of the best done in the United States in the last fifteen years. At the moment, despite the difficulties of comparisons and the excellence of the work of Rothko, Noland and Stella, 1 it's not so rash to say that Newman is the best painter in this country. Also, the work of these four artists and that by Reinhardt and Lichtenstein, is considerably better than the European painting evident in the magazines and that shown in New York, except for Yves Klein's blue paintings. These evaluations only involve painting and since painting now shares art equally with sculpture and three-dimensional work more comparisons are possible. But these still leave Newman one of the world's best artists and the best make a short list.

Newman was born in New York City in 1905 and has lived there ever since. He studied art at the Art Students' League. Before 1950 his paintings were shown infrequently in group shows, notably one in 1947 of Abstract Surrealism at the Chicago Art Institute which, for the first time, included all of the artists, Pollock, Still and Rothko for example, who were on the verge of radically changing American art and art as a whole. The term 'Abstract Surrealism' is more or less descriptive of Newman's work then. In 1948 he painted the first painting like his work since, a small one with a stripe down the middle. Late in 1949 or early in 1950 he did a painting with two stripes. Newman's first one-man show was at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950. There was a second show there a year later. Since then, other than single paintings in group shows, he has shown three times. In 1959, at the impermanent but important gallery directed by Clement Greenberg for French and Co., there was a large and magnificent show of paintings done between 1946 and 1952, including Vir Heroicus Sublimis and Cathedra, two large ones. In 1958 this work had been shown at Bennington College. Some of Newman's recent paintings, as well as a few earlier ones, including The Wild of 1950, an eight-foot vertical an inch and a half wide, were shown in 1962 with De Kooning's work at the Allan Stone Gallery.

Shining Forth (To George), done in 1961, was shown in New York this year. It's nine and a half feet high and fourteen and a half long. The rectangle is unprimed cotton canvas except for two stripes and the edges of a third. Slightly to the left of the centre there is a vertical black stripe three inches wide. All of the stripes run to the upper and lower edges. Slightly less than a foot in from the left edge there is a black stripe an inch wide. This hasn't been painted directly and evenly like the central stripe, but has been laid in between two stripes of masking tape. The paint has run under the tape some, making the stripe a little rough. A foot in from the right edge there is another stripe an inch wide, but this is one of reserved canvas, made by scraping black paint across a strip of masking tape and then removing it. There isn't much paint on either side of the white stripe; the two edges are sharp just against the

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Source: Studio International Feb. 1970, pp. 67-69. The article was written in November 1964. Illustrations have been omitted.

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