- Barnett Newman
- signed and dated 1946; signed and dated 1946 on the reverse
- brush and ink on paper
- 23 3/4 x 17 5/8 inches
Collection of Annalee Newman
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1990
Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art; Detroit, 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 Basel, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, April 1979 - July 1981, p. 119, no. 43, illustrated and pp. 120-121, illustrated (Baltimore); p. 65, no. 43 (text) (Amsterdam); p. 32, no. 43 (text) (Paris); p. 42, no. 43 (text) (Cologne); p. 42, no. 43 (text) (Basel)
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum; and New York, The Pace Gallery, The Sublime is Now: The Early Work of Barnett Newman, Paintings and Drawings 1944-1949, March - November 1994, p. 76, no. 40, illustrated
New York, Craig F. Starr Associates, Barnett Newman: Drawing Declares the Space, April – June 2005
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978 (reprinted 1994), p. 178, no. 156, illustrated
Mollie McNickle, "The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman (Ph.D. dissertation)," University of Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 206, no. 6 (text)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 408, no. 161, illustrated in color
Newman's epiphanic moment in 1948 with Onement I was a product of earlier explorations executed in ink on paper, the present example of which is nearly identical in size to his breakthrough painting. Untitled, 1946 features bold brushstrokes of black ink pulsing in vertical swaths down the length of paper, the saturation dwindling slightly from left to right. Between each pull of ink, blank paper breathes through in neutral lithe stripes, initiating a conversation between figure and ground. The repetition of these black bands throws into sharp relief the variability of each bar; the bands to the right of the composition are fainter in color, revealing each individual stroke of the brush during the moment of execution. To create this signature bar, Newman applied masking tape to the paper, painted around the tape and then removed it, creating a 'zip' left in reserve. Whereas many later examples of the 'zips' were executed in flat swaths of monochromatic color on a smooth canvas, the present work is unique in that the paper, which allowed the ink to bleed slightly into the blank strip, betrays the artist's process. From among this dense forest of black strips, a single shaft of precisely demarcated bare paper reaches upward, orienting our focus to the center of the composition, which it simultaneously divides and unites. The ‘zip’ here, however, is abbreviated, only running up about two thirds of the composition. Brenda Richardson notes, “Newman never fully explored the form of the truncated zip in his painting. That this is so indicates the experimental freedom he felt in the drawing medium - he could work through a given image or compositional form on paper and then abandon it, somehow sensing that it was not fruitful to carry it into paint.” (Brenda Richardson, Exh. Cat., Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, 1979, p. 118)
Newman began attending courses at the Art Students League when he was just 17 and continued throughout much of the 1920s, after which he began teaching art as a substitute teacher in New York City. He befriended artists such as Milton Avery, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and Willem de Kooning, and executed many early works until 1939-40, when he virtually ceased his output altogether. In a declaration of artistic maturity, and as a way to define the ‘beginning’ of his career, Newman destroyed everything he had made up to that point. It was not until 1944 that he returned to drawing and painting, making the present work one of the ‘first’ in his newly self-articulated oeuvre. During his hiatus, Newman organized exhibitions for the newly opened Betty Parsons Gallery and played a significant role in writing about and advancing the careers of his Abstract Expressionist peers. As curator of a number of exhibitions and author of their respective catalogues, Newman became deeply ensconced in an artistic tradition he championed but also found oppressive in his own artistic practice. It was through these drawings, indicative of his relentless experimentation, that Newman articulated and defined his artistic vocabulary, a development that ran parallel to his works as a writer.
Following the atrocities of World War II and the devastation of major European cities that had heretofore been the cultural capitals of the world, Newman and his peers worked to shift international focus to New York City. America provided fertile ground for the birth of an entirely new art form; Surrealist artists including André Breton and Max Ernst furthered the already developing interest in ‘primitive’ art and a distinctly outsider American culture, ancient or otherwise. Newman freed himself from the ‘anxiety of influence’ of his European forebears through the poetic and primal ‘zip,’ which rejected objects, representation, dogma and precedence. Along with other post-war artists in New York, Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could visually capture the ineffable essence and spirituality of existence. Newman’s ‘zips’ simultaneously opened the picture plane, which arguably had not been so radically altered since the advent of Cubism, while also heralding in a generation of Minimalist artists. Rich in its storied exhibition history, pulsing with vigor and one of the earliest examples of the artist’s ‘zips,’ Newman’s Untitled from 1946 is arguably one of the most momentous works from the artist’s career.