PRINT December 1971

Color, Culture, The Stations: Notes on the Barnett Newman Memorial Exhibition


IN OCTOBER 1949, A NEWSPAPER REVIEWER writing about a group show at Betty Parsons Gallery described Newman’s contribution as a “mural size canvas painted an unrelieved tomato red with a perfectly straight narrow band of deeper red cleaving the canvas in two.”1 This clipping has a double interest: it is evidence that Newman was early with a big (“mural size”), one-color (“unrelieved tomato red”) painting and it recovers something of the contemporary prejudice that Newman’s work was antipainterly. If, as seems likely, the painting referred to is Onement III, 1949, it does not look bare and unrelieved in the retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. It has moved from object to symbol in the intervening years. Newman is the last of the Abstract Expressionists to have a comprehensive exhibition and it is the first time to see this and the other paintings in a context set by the

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