The exceptional installation at Craig F. Starr Gallery and its Upper
East Side atmosphere might not immediately signal Barnett Newman’s
lifelong commitment to anarchist politics (a philosophy he shared with
artists as varied as Signac, Courbet, Pissaro and Bellows), but it
shines forth in the radical approach of his work.
This group of six early Newman paintings shows a severing of a
connection to the past in order to forge direct contact with the
present. Yet without apparent contradiction, unlike his hipper, younger
colleagues, Newman was unabashedly passionate about painting and the
exalted, even revelatory subject matter he felt his vanguard form
embraced. It is this that separates him from Minimalism, although he is
often regarded as its originator.
The intimate scale of the Starr Gallery brings the eye right up close
to the canvas, where Newman wished his ideal viewer to be, allowing
viewers to experience the work at the painter’s distance. Newman emptied
his work of any echoes of naturalistic reference, denied “composition”
and eliminated geometry, leaving only a physical field of paint,
bisected or trisected by “zips”—narrow, band-like vertical planes.
Measurements are specific and integral to appreciating his radical
approach to drawing as a way of creating scale. The result achieves a
sensation of direct experience: of time, place and the gravity of the
human predicament. —
– Jim Long
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