Lot 6
  • 6

Barnett Newman

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Barnett Newman
  • Untitled
  • brush and ink on paper
  • 14 by 10 in. 35.6 by 25.4 cm.
  • Executed in 1960.


Estate of the artist (AN#1960-10) 
Annalee Newman, New York 
The Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1993


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Barnett Newman, October 1971 - January 1972, no. 15, illustrated
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Tate Gallery; and Paris, Grand Palais, Barnett Newman, March - December 1972, p. 132, no. 84, illustrated (Paris), no. 85 (Amsterdam and London) 
Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Berkeley, University Art Museum; San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; and Columbus, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Perceptions of the Spirit in 20th Century American Art, September 1977 - June 1978, p. 105, no. 63, illustrated
Baltimore, 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; Cologne, Museum Ludwig; and Basel, Kunstmuseum, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944–1969, April 1979 - July 1981, p. 183, no. 72, illustrated (Baltimore), no. 62 (Amsterdam), no. 68 (Paris), no. 67 (Cologne), no. 67 (Basel)
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Rheinhallen, Bilderstreit: Widerspruch, Einheit und Fragment in der Kunst seit 1960, April - June 1989, p. 413, no. 515e, illustrated 
New York, Vivian Horan Fine Art, Pitched Black, November - December 1992, no. 1


Thomas B. Hess, Barnett Newman, New York, 1971, p. 97, illustrated
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, p. 191, no. 179, illustrated
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman:  A Catalogue Raisonné, New York and New Haven, 2004, p. 437, no. 190, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Alan Firkser of Paper Conservation Studio, Inc. The sheet is framed in a gilded wooden frame under Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Barnett Newman’s striking and stringently monochromatic Untitled is among a limited suite of seminal drawings the artist executed in 1960 that would inform his momentous exhibition of The Stations of the Cross in 1966. In 1960, Newman cut open two blocks of watercolor paper, one fourteen by ten inches and the other twelve by nine inches; from these sheets, the artist created a total of twenty two ink drawings. The present work belongs to the group of fifteen larger drawings, which, for their chromatic starkness, proportions, and sustained, restricted color palette, have been regarded as the critical first explorations for what would later become The Stations of the Cross. Untitled is distinguished by its singular swath of ink down the center of the composition, against which Newman’s iconic ‘zip’ is thrown into sharp relief; it is the execution of this zip that would inform, in particular, the right hand band in the Fourth Station, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Testament to the significance of these 1960s drawings within Newman’s oeuvre, similar works on paper reside in the permanent collections of esteemed institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago. The Stations of the Cross, Newman’s spectacular series of fourteen black and white paintings, represents a triumph of Newman’s intellectual and spiritual explorations into the transcendental power of art to elicit an almost religious experience from the viewer. The restricted formal means and limited color palette forced Newman to work with different permutations of the zip, in different placements, and with subtle variances. Newman experimented with everything from the thickness of his oil paint and the width of the zip, to its placement on the canvas. These seemingly minor discrepancies activate each zip in enormously varying roles; indeed, it can be read as ‘positive,’ in the case of a dark brushstroke, or ‘negative,’ in the case of raw canvas peeking through a swath of ink, much like the focal point of the present work.  The Stations of the Cross was initially exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1966. Of the group of 1960s drawings that preceded this series, Brenda Richardson noted: “The drawings are a kind of incubation for the Stations, not in the sense of preparatory studies but as the preliminary exploration necessary for Newman to confirm his visual instincts, to achieve a sense of conviction (both metaphorically and formally) about the direction he found the work taking in 1958-1960. The drawings bespeak precisely that kind of exploratory energy, a tentative posing of questions: is a palette composed exclusively of black and white too limited to sustain an extended series of paintings? How much inventiveness is possible with both a reduced palette and a reduced repertory of forms?” (Exh. Cat., Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Barnett Newman: The Complete Drawings, 1944-1969, 1979, p. 158)

Within this series of fourteen by ten inch ink on paper drawings, Newman examined how to sustain a restricted color palette in executing numerous iterations of his zip. In the present work, a dark stroke of ink articulates a ground against which the tape-reserved zip bisects the composition into two equal passages. To create this signature bar, Newman applied masking tape to the paper, painted around the tape, and then removed it, creating the zip left in reserve. A dry, brushy stroke of ink on the left hand side of the drawing balances a modulated and saturated swath on the right, lending a sense of harmony and balance to the overall composition, despite its asymmetry. Untitled is particularly unique in that the paper, which allowed the ink to bleed slightly into the blank strip, betrays the regularity of the masked-off zip.

Perhaps most importantly, the present work exemplifies Newman’s continued probing into the spiritual effect art could produce in the wake of World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust. Rejecting the restrictions of an art historical tradition he found oppressive, Newman sought to create a divine and emotional statement by focusing on the subtle nuances of spatial relationships and expressive brushwork. Although most renowned for his monumental oils on canvas, Newman held the practice of drawing to the same elevated status as that of painting. In a 1962 interview, just two years after the present work was completed, Newman said: “For example, drawing is central to my whole concept. I don’t mean making drawings, although I have always done a lot of them. I mean the drawing that exists in my painting. Yet no writer on art has ever confronted that issue. I am always referred to in relation to my color. Yet I know that if I have made a contribution, it is primarily in my drawing.” (The artist in an interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler, “Frontiers of Space,” Art in America 50, no. 2, Summer 1962, pp. 86-87) Proof of the immense contribution this drawing has made both to the artist’s practice and to Twentieth-Century art, Untitled has been exhibited in numerous institutions around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Tate Gallery, London, the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, the Grand Palais, Paris, the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among many others. Untitled endures as an austere and successful exploration of Newman’s signature zips, testifies to his brilliant artistic prowess, and represents a triumphant realization of his heroic creativity, brazen gesture and unceasing spiritual inquiry.