In Focus

Adam 1951, 1952 by Barnett Newman

Michael Schreyach

The American abstract expressionist artist Barnett Newman considered his painting Adam 1951, 1952 a major achievement in his efforts to visualise what he called the ‘metaphysical content’ of art.

Barnett Newman, Adam 1951, 1952

Barnett Newman
Adam 1951, 1952
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2429 x 2029 mm
Tate T01091
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018

Adam is a very large oil painting comprising a field of colour and relatively thin vertical bands or ‘zips’, a distinctive format now regarded as characteristic of the artist’s work. Like other paintings Newman exhibited in the early 1950s, Adam was not well received by critics or the public. In 1952 Newman chose to transform the canvas by adding a third, central band to the image.

This In Focus investigates the philosophical and formal motivations behind Newman’s revision of Adam and explains how the change affects the ways in which the painting is viewed. It analyses photographs of the artist posing with his canvases to illuminate Newman’s attempt to preserve ‘figuration’ within a manifestly ‘abstract’ painting practice. Further chapters consider Newman’s work in relation to the abstract expressionist discourse of ‘origins’ and ‘beginnings’, and examine critical responses to Adam in the 1950s.

Published in July 2018, the project is authored by Michael Schreyach (Trinity University, San Antonio) with contributions by Michael Leja (University of Pennsylvania) and James Finch (Royal Academy of Arts).

ISBN 978-1-84976-543-5