Tate Modern Level 4
20 September 2002 – 5 January 2003
Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was one of the leaders of the group of American artists who became known as the Abstract Expressionists, or the New York School, and whose art swept the world in the 1950s and 1960s. Newman has been regarded variously as an exemplar of high modernism, a late romantic, a practitioner of the art of the sublime, a precursor of Minimalism, an existentialist and a spiritual artist obsessed with Judaism and the Kabbalah. Acutely aware of the tragedies of his times and a keen admirer of the art of indigenous and earlier cultures, Newman searched for a way in which to express the human predicament in a post-Holocaust era.
This is the first full-scale retrospective of the paintings, sculpture and works on paper of Barnett Newman to take place since the Tate exhibition of 1972. Among the fifty paintings included there will be a unique opportunity to see Newman’s celebrated series The Stations of the Cross 1958-66, which have never before left the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The large-scale Uriel 1955, at one time on loan to Tate but currently on loan to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, will return to London, and the magnificent late painting, Anna’s Light 1968, will, exceptionally, be lent by the Kawamura Museum of Art while the two late triangular paintings, Chartres 1969 and Jericho 1968-9 , rarely seen together, will be reunited. Five sculptures, around thirty drawings and two portfolios of prints will also be included.
Born in New York to Polish Jewish immigrants in 1905, Barnett Newman was obliged to work in his father’s clothing factory before being able to embark on a career as an artist. In the 1930s he painted little, but produced a series of writings on art and politics. In 1948 he made his breakthrough painting, Onement I. From that point he more or less ceased to write, and concentrated full time on making art. With Onement I, Newman developed a signature style in which a field of colour was interrupted by one or more vertical bands that he called ‘zips’. While believing that art must be abstract Newman also believed that subject matter was of crucial importance. His earliest extant works were abstract renderings of the Biblical theme of Creation, but in the aftermath of war the look of his paintings changed to reflect what he called ‘the tragedy of our times’.
The exhibition is jointly organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Tate. The principal curator of the show is Ann Temkin, the Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Jeremy Lewison, Tate Director of Collections, has been a contributing curator. The catalogue contains two essays by Ann Temkin and Richard Shiff as well as full catalogue entries, a chronology and a bibliography (hb price £40 and pb only available in Tate Shops price £25). The exhibition is on view in Philadelphia until 7 July 2002 and at Tate Modern from 20 September 2002 to 5 January 2003.
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