Barnett Newman is born on January 29 in his parents’ home at 480 Cherry Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Newman’s parents, Abraham and Anna (born c. 1874 and 1882, respectively), are Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York City from Lomza, Russian Poland, in 1900. Abraham makes a living selling sewing-machine heads to garment workers.
Barney, as he is known to family and friends, is the eldest child, a previous son having died in infancy. Three younger siblings will follow: George, Gertrude, and Sarah. When he reaches school age, Barney attends P.S. 2 on Henry Street in lower Manhattan.
Barnett Newman (right) with his brother, George, and his sisters, Gertrude and Sarah, c. 1917
Abraham establishes a menswear manufacturing company. The business thrives, and by 1915 the Newmans move to 1820 Belmont Avenue, in the middle-class Tremont section of the Bronx. There, Barney enjoys an active childhood full of sports, piano lessons, and street wrangling. As a student at P.S. 44 on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx, he wins first place in the Junior Four-Minute Speaking Contest.
Although not religious, Abraham is a passionate Zionist and supporter of the National Hebrew School of the Bronx. In addition to attending Hebrew school, the children are tutored at home by young Jewish scholars from Europe.
Newman attends De Witt Clinton High School in Manhattan, commuting there daily from the Bronx. The annex for freshmen is on East Eighty-eighth Street, and Newman later remembers frequently skipping class to visit the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art.
During his first year of high school, Newman adopts a middle name, Benedict, a Latinate equivalent of his Hebrew name, Baruch. For a time after this, Newman is addressed as both ‚ “Barney” and “B. B.” He will use the extra initial “B” in signing his artwork through the mid-1940s and on official documents until the end of his life.
During the fall of his senior year, Newman attends drawing classes six days a week with Duncan Smith at the Art Students League, 215 West Fifty-seventh Street. His much-labored-over drawing of the Belvedere torso is chosen for an exhibition of the best student work.
Through the Art Students League, Newman meets Adolph Gottlieb. Only two years older than Newman, Gottlieb is already pursuing the life of an artist, having dropped out of high school in 1921 to study art and hobo his way across Europe. The two friends frequently visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and uptown galleries together.
After graduating from high school, Newman matriculates at the tuition-free City College of New York (CCNY) in Harlem. During his freshman year he also enrolls in life drawing classes with William Von Schlegell at the Art Students League.
A philosophy major at CCNY, Newman studies with two acclaimed pedagogues: Scott Buchanan, who would later found the innovative ""Great Books"" curriculum at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland; and Morris Raphael Cohen, a legendarily exacting practitioner of the Socratic method. Often truant, Newman earns mostly low grades.
Newman contributes music reviews to the CCNY newspaper, The Campus, and in 1925 publishes an essay about the paintings of critic Roger Fry in the student literary journal, The Lavender. Among his college friends is Aaron Siskind—at this time an aspiring poet, later to become an acclaimed photographer.
Newman graduates from CCNY. Abraham proposes that Barney enter the family business for a few years in order to build up savings to support himself as an artist. Barney agrees and, with his brother, George, joins his father’s prosperous clothing manufacturing business, headquartered at 37 East Broadway in Lower Manhattan.
The October stock-market crash devastates Newman Clothing Company. George eventually takes a job as an architectural draftsman, but Barney stays on, becoming closely involved in his father’s attempts to salvage the business.
Newman again attends classes at the Art Students League, taking life drawing with Harry Wickey and John Sloan.
As his family's business continues to founder, Newman tries to become an art teacher in the New York City public school system. He fails the exam for a regular teaching license and instead becomes a substitute art teacher, earning $7.50 a day.
Through Gottlieb, Newman meets the painter Milton Avery. Gottlieb and Marcus Rothkowitz (later Mark Rothko) are at the center of a group of young artists who regularly gather at Avery’s home to study his work and to participate in life sketching and poetry readings. It is unclear exactly when Newman meets Rothko, but it is evidently during the 1930s.
Over the next few years, Newman intermittently shares a studio with Gottlieb. No work from this period survives.
In February, Newman secures a regular substitute position teaching art appreciation at Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens.
The Newman family moves southward in the Bronx, settling at 984 Sheridan Avenue, near the Grand Concourse.
From February through August, Newman rents a studio at 47 Horatio Street in the West Village.
With his friend Alexander Borodulin, Newman conceives of a magazine that will promote civil service and advocate the rights of public workers, such as teachers, street cleaners, and firemen. They print up letterhead and publicity materials for the New York Wednesday Answer
but are unable to interest any advertisers.
Little more than a week before the election, Newman and Borodulin offer themselves as write-in candidates for New York City mayor and comptroller, respectively. They circulate thousands of copies of their manifesto, “On the Need for Political Action by Men of Culture,” which promotes a three-prong program of “more extensive education, a greater emphasis upon the arts and crafts, and the fostering of cultural living conditions.”
On November 7, Fiorello Henry La Guardia wins the election, beginning his first of his three terms as mayor. It is not known how many votes Newman and Borodulin received.
Cover of The Answer, January 1936, with article by Barnett Newman
Newman's business card in 1936
Article in the New York World-Telegram on November 4, 1933, about Newman's candidacy for Mayor of New York
At a faculty meeting at Grover Cleveland High School in February, Newman meets Annalee Greenhouse, a substitute shorthand teacher. The couple begins a courtship nurtured by a mutual passion for music.
Annalee Greenhouse was born on August 25, 1909, in Palestine, as her family was making its way from Russia to the United States. The Greenhouses first settled in Akron, Ohio, and, when Annalee was a teenager, moved to Forest Hills, Queens, in New York. A graduate of Hunter College who also studied French at Columbia University and the university in Nancy, France, Greenhouse learned secretarial skills so that she could earn a living as a teacher of shorthand.
Newman acts as manager for the Theater Troupe, a company for which Borodulin is the in-house playwright. In May, the troupe stages an evening of one-act plays at the Artef Theatre on 247 West Forty-eighth Street, home of the renowned leftist Yiddish theater company.
Newman resumes work on his civil-service magazine, now to be titled The Answer. A handwritten draft of a column planned for The Answer outlines a list of “Books we recommend”: Spinoza’s Ethics, Plato’s Republic, and the writings of the Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin. A corresponding list of “Books we condemn” names the complete works of Hegel, Marx, and Lenin.
In the spring, Newman takes an education class at CCNY, “Teaching Oral English in High School.”
Over the summer, he rents a studio at 234 West Thirteenth Street.
In January, Newman publishes The Answer—America’s Civil Service Magazine
but is unable to sustain it beyond this first issue. He applies for a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship to write a book on the American civil service but is turned down.
On June 30, Annalee and Barney marry. For their honeymoon, the newlyweds travel to Concord, Massachusetts, where they visit Walden Pond and the houses of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They proceed to Ogunquit, Maine, where they rent a cottage for the summer. After an attempt to teach Annalee figure drawing at a nearby artists’ colony, Barney dedicates the summer to photography, even taking postcard shots for a local camera shop. In return for this service, he receives a number of cards showing the Newmans’ honeymoon cottage that Barney sends out as wedding announcements.
The Newmans want to stay in Maine for a year, but financial concerns compel them to return to their teaching jobs in New York in the fall. Barney and Annalee take an apartment in Chelsea, at 300 West Twenty-third Street. Over the next two years they move twice, first to 315 West Twenty-third Street and then to 433 West Twenty-first Street.
Barnett and Annalee Newman on their honeymoon, Ogunquit, Maine, 1936. Photo by Aaron Siskind
Annalee Newman at the Newman honeymoon cottage, Ogunquit, Maine, 1936. Photo by Kenneth Dame
Both Newmans are substitute teaching, but Barney applies for a job as a federal inspector in a prison clothing factory and later for a teaching post at Queens College. He is turned down for both positions. He also applies for a Guggenheim Fellowship so that he can pursue his book on the civil service. When the proposal is rejected, Newman abandons this project for good.
In April, Newman learns that he has failed the test to obtain a regular art-teaching license, scoring only 15 percent on the performance portion of the exam. He must continue working as a substitute teacher, earning less than $1,400 a year without sick leave, vacation pay, or unemployment insurance. Still, he makes slightly more than what his friends Rothko and Gottlieb earn as painters for the federally sponsored Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Abraham suffers a heart attack and retires. Barney is allowed to liquidate the family business. At the same time, he assists Annalee’s father, Samuel Greenhouse, in an unsuccessful legal battle over patent infringement. Reflecting on these years, Newman later stated: “The art situation was so boring, I felt I had more serious problems: my father, her father.”
In January, Newman narrowly misses passing the written examination for high school English teachers. His appeals are unsuccessful.
In March, Newman again fails the art teachers’ examination, this time scoring 33 percent for his watercolor skills. On behalf of the Fine Arts Substitutes Association, Newman launches a full-blown publicity assault on the Board of Examiners, garnering the support of well-known artists Max Weber, Thomas Hart Benton, and Rockwell Kent. He organizes an exhibition of work rejected by the board titled Can We Draw? The Board of Examiners Says—No!
which includes a painting by Weber. The show attracts a great deal of press attention, and the exhibitors, including Newman and his sister Sarah, are allowed to retake the exam. Unfortunately, Newman once more fails the performance test.
In December, Annalee passes the exam to teach stenography and typewriting in city schools.
Exhibition announcement, 1938
Newman becomes interested in botany and spends much of his free time at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Annalee secures a regular teaching post at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens.
In March, a watercolor by Newman titled Country Studio is included in an exhibition of art by members of the Art Teachers Association. This painting is likely the same one exhibited as Studio in the Country in Can We Draw? two years earlier.
In October, Newman gives up substitute teaching for a part-time job teaching evening classes in silk-screen printing and batik at the Washington Irving Adult Center at 40 Irving Place.
Newman is not painting during the early 1940s but pursues his interest in natural science. He takes classes at the American Museum of Natural History and is elected an associate of the American Ornithologists Union. Over the summer, Barney and Annalee attend an Audubon Society camp in Newcastle, Maine, where they study birds and marine life.
Barney and Annalee move to an apartment at 343 East Nineteenth Street, where they will live for the next fifteen years.
Annalee receives a master’s degree in education from New York University. She eventually becomes acting chairman of her department at Bryant High, but, as she told an interviewer in 1991: “For me it was no career. It was just a job. A job to earn a living so I could free my husband. . . . We were two people who had a single cause.”
Over the summer, Annalee and Barney attend botany and ornithology classes at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
On December 7 the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States enters World War II.
Although he has already been disqualified from military service for physical reasons, Newman applies to be classified as a conscientious objector in January.
Newman writes the catalogue foreword for the first exhibition of the American Modern Artists (AMA), held in January and February at the Riverside Museum in New York. The show is a protest against the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its exclusion of modernist art from its juried exhibitions. Newman is not a member of the AMA but seems to have become involved through his friends Gottlieb and Rothko.
In June, Newman helps Rothko and Gottlieb compose a response to a negative review by Edward Alden Jewell, the art critic for the New York Times
. In their letter, which is printed on June 13 in the Times, the artists outline their “aesthetic beliefs,” culminating with: “There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject-matter is valid which is tragic and timeless.”
At the home of Adolph and Esther Gottlieb, Newman meets Betty Parsons, who is then running a small gallery in the Wakefield Bookshop at 64 East Fifty-fifth Street.
Either this summer or the next, Barney and Annalee visit the Peabody museums in Salem and Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see the African, Northwest Coast Indian, and Pre-Columbian collections.
The Adolph Gottliebs, the Vincent Spagnas, and the Barnett Newmans
In February, Newman contributes the catalogue foreword for a show of Gottlieb’s drawings at the Wakefield Gallery. This is the beginning of Newman’s close working relationship with Betty Parsons. In May, he organizes an exhibition of Pre-Columbian sculpture for the Wakefield, borrowing many of the objects from the American Museum of Natural History. On the weekends, when Parsons goes to the country, Barney and Annalee tend the gallery.
At the Wakefield Gallery, Newman meets Luis Jesus Navascués, the editor of La Revista Belga
, a propagandist magazine published for distribution in South America by the Belgian government. Newman contributes an article on Pre-Columbian art to the August issue of La Revista Belga
and over the next two years publishes several art reviews in this magazine and a similar one called Ambos Mundos
. In both journals, his writings appear translated into Spanish.
For the third year in a row, the Newmans summer in East Gloucester, Massachusetts. Barney is beginning to make art again and starts a series of crayon drawings.
Near the end of 1944, Betty Parsons leaves the Wakefield Gallery to become the director of modern art for the Mortimer Brandt Gallery at 15 East Fifty-seventh Street.
Cover of magazine including Spanish translation of Newman’s article on Pre-Columbian stone sculpture, 1944
Cover of exhibition brochure, 1944
Newman is busy as a writer, penning reviews for La Revista Belga. He also writes several pieces not published in his lifetime, including “The Plasmic Image,” a sprawling multipart essay outlining his thoughts on abstract art.
In April, the Newmans learn that many of Annalee’s relatives in France have been deported by the Nazis. By this time, the Newmans would also have heard of the decimation of the Jewish population in Lomza, Poland, the hometown of Abraham and Anna Newman, which had occurred in 1941 and 1942.
On vacation in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Newman makes a number of drawings. He and Annalee meet the architect and artist Tony Smith, who will become one of their closest friends.
Sometime this year, Newman rents a studio on Mangin Street, off Houston Street, overlooking the East River.
In August, the United States drops the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II ends.
Newman meets Clyfford Still, who in February has a solo show at Art of This Century, Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, where Rothko has been exhibiting since the previous year.
In September, Parsons opens her own gallery in Mortimer Brandt’s old space. Newman organizes the debut exhibition, a show of Northwest Coast Indian painting. Tony Smith assists with the installation, and Aaron Siskind photographs the objects. Over the next year, Newman writes catalogue forewords for several exhibitions at the Parsons Gallery, including the solo shows of Herbert Ferber and Theodoros Stamos.
In June and September, respectively, Newman’s friends Rothko and Still sign with the Betty Parsons Gallery. By December, Newman also joins Betty Parsons’s roster of artists. One of his works is included in the gallery’s Christmas Show. This is the first display of Newman’s art since the Art Teachers Association exhibition in 1940.
At the end of the year, Newman rents a studio at 114 Fourth Avenue, near Union Square.
Newman meets Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in late 1946 or early 1947. Over the next few years, Newman and Pollock forge a close friendship. Newman introduces Pollock to Betty Parsons, and when Peggy Guggenheim closes Art of This Century at the end of the spring season, Parsons takes over Pollock’s contract.
In January, Newman mounts The Ideographic Picture
at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The exhibition features eight artists from the Parsons stable. Of his own work, Newman includes Gea
and Euclidian Abyss
On June 30, Barney and Annalee’s eleventh wedding anniversary, Abraham Newman dies.
At the end of the school year, Barney quits his part-time position at Washington Irving Adult Center. Annalee supports them both on her teacher’s salary, as she will do for the next seventeen years.
Newman’s essay “The First Man Was an Artist” appears in the inaugural issue of The Tiger’s Eye
, a small arts magazine edited by Ruth Stephan, a writer, and her husband, John Stephan, a painter affiliated with the Parsons Gallery. Later this year, Newman contributes this statement to The Tiger’s Eye
, on the topic “Why I Paint”: “An artist paints so that he will have something to look at; at times he must write so that he will also have something to read.”
In November, Euclidian Abyss
is exhibited as Black and Yellow
in Abstract and Surrealist American Art
at the Art Institute of Chicago. The painting is purchased out of the exhibition by Connecticut collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine. This is Newman’s first sale.
At the end of the year, Newman moves his studio to a storefront at 304 East Nineteenth Street, across the street from his apartment.
Table of contents from the first issue of Tiger's Eye, October 1947, listing Newman's essay "The First Man was an Artist" on p. 57
Cover of the first issue of Tiger's Eye
Newman paints Onement I. He comes to view this painting as a major breakthrough, and the next two years are the most productive of his career.
In June, a painting by Newman is included in the group show Survey of the Season at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
Early in the fall, William Baziotes, David Hare, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko establish a cooperative art school at 35 East Eighth Street. Newman suggests the name for the school, “Subjects of the Artist,” in order to emphasize the importance of subject matter in abstract art.
Newman’s essay “The Sublime Is Now” appears in the December issue of The Tiger’s Eye. In response to the question “What is sublime in art?” Newman writes: “I believe that here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it.”
Newman makes seventeen paintings in 1949, the largest number he will ever complete in a single year.
In January, Newman joins the faculty of Subjects of the Artist. Annalee and Barney help organize the school’s Friday-night lecture series. There are twelve speakers during the spring term, including Jean Arp, John Cage, and Joseph Cornell. Despite the popularity of these talks, the school dissolves in May 1949.
Over the summer, the Newmans travel to Akron to spend time with Annalee’s family. While in Ohio, they visit the prehistoric Native American mounds located in the southwestern and central parts of the state. The experience deeply impresses Newman and inspires the essay (not published in his lifetime) “Prologue for a New Aesthetic.”
On January 23 Newman’s first solo exhibition opens at the Betty Parsons Gallery. Mark Rothko and Tony Smith assist with the installation. The response to the show is largely negative. One of the paintings is vandalized. Thomas Hess in ARTnews writes
: “Newman is out to shock, but he is not out to shock the bourgeoisie—that has been done. He likes to shock other artists.” A single painting, End of Silence
, sells to a college friend of Annalee’s. After gallery expenses, Newman’s profit is $84.14.
Newman and seventeen other artists sign an open letter protesting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bias against modernist art. The letter appears on the front page of the New York Times
on May 22, triggering a flurry of editorials and countereditorials in both local and national publications. On November 24, Life
magazine photographer Nina Leen takes a portrait of the group the New York Herald Tribune
has dubbed “The Irascible Eighteen.” At Newman’s insistence the men are dressed “like bankers,” wearing jackets and ties.
In August, Newman moves to a studio at 110 Wall Street, in the neighborhood where his father’s business once operated. There he is able to work on much larger canvases.
Newman’s work is included in Post-Abstract Painting, 1950, France–America
at the Hawthorne Memorial Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and American Painting
at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Newman makes his first sculpture, Here I
, out of wood and plaster.
Newman in front of Be I (1949) at his first solo exhibition, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, January 1950. To the right are Yellow Painting (1949) and End of Silence (1949). Photo by Aaron Siskind
On April 23 Newman’s second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery opens. Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Tony Smith install the show. Among the works included is Newman’s first eighteen-foot-long painting, Vir Heroicus Sublimis
Critics condemn the exhibition and no paintings sell. In the following months, Newman removes his work from the Betty Parsons Gallery and withdraws from all gallery activities.
Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Tony Smith, 1951. Photograph by Hans Namuth. © 1991 Hans Namuth Estate
In his essay “Feeling Is All,” published in the Partisan Review
, the critic Clement Greenberg belatedly endorses Newman’s 1950 and 1951 exhibitions. Criticizing Newman’s detractors, Greenberg states: “Newman is a very important and original artist.”
In April, Newman is excluded from the Museum of Modern Art exhibition Fifteen Americans
, which features the work of, among others, Pollock, Rothko, and Still. This event deeply wounds Newman. An exhibition catalogue inscribed to Newman from Still reads: “To my friend Barnett Newman who, also, should have been represented in this exhibition.”
Newman’s lease at 110 Wall Street is terminated, and in August he moves his studio around the corner to 100 Front Street.
In August, Newman participates as a speaker in the annual Woodstock Art Conference in Woodstock, New York. In a session with the philosopher Susanne Langer, Newman attacks professional aestheticians, saying: “I feel that even if aesthetics is established as a science, it doesn’t affect me as an artist. I’ve done quite a bit of work in ornithology; I have never met an ornithologist who ever thought that ornithology was for the birds.” He would later hone this remark into the famous quip, “Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds.”
Newman outside his studio at 100 Front Street. Photo by Robert Murray
In June, Newman buys back the painting Untitled (No. 1), one of his narrow vertical paintings, from the collection of artist Alfonso Ossorio. He writes to Ossorio: “I have decided to withdraw all of my ‘small’ canvases at this time, from public view. . . . The conditions do not yet exist . . . that can make possible a direct, innocent attitude towards an isolated piece of my work, particularly one of my ‘small’ ones.” This action is representative of Newman’s general withdrawal from the official art world during the mid-1950s. He does not exhibit between 1951 and 1955.
Newman is so offended by an article published in the summer issue of the College Art Journal that he sues its author, the artist Ad Reinhardt, for libel. The article, “The Artist in Search of an Academy, Part Two: Who Are the Artists?” proposed “four general categories of artist-types,” classing Newman as an “artist-professor and traveling-design-salesman, . . . avant-garde-huckster-handicraftsman, . . . [and] holy-roller-explainer-entertainer-in-residence.” Newman’s suit is eventually dismissed in February 1956, after two days of hearings before a judge and jury.
Still a full-time teacher at Bryant High School, Annalee also starts teaching evening classes at City College’s Baruch School of Business.
Newman turns fifty. He has sold only a few paintings, and just one to someone who is not a personal friend. Even with Annalee working two jobs, the Newmans’ financial situation is precarious. The couple resorts to taking loans, pawning a few valuables, and, in Barney’s case, trying to develop a winning scheme at the horse track.
Sometime this year, the Newmans leave their apartment on East Nineteenth Street and move to 62 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.
In his essay “American-Type Painting,” published in the spring issue of the Partisan Review
, Clement Greenberg praises Newman’s art as “deep and honest” and “the most direct attack on [easel painting] so far.” But he also portrays Newman as a follower of Still and closely related to Rothko, both associations that rile Newman.
In December, Horizon Light
is exhibited as No. 7
in the Betty Parsons Gallery’s tenth-anniversary exhibition. It is the first public display of Newman’s work since 1951.
Robert Murray, Jonathan Holstein, and Newman in front of Uriel (1955) at the Front Street studio. Photo by Robert Murray
Newman does not make any paintings during 1956 and 1957 or, if so, abandons them.
At Jackson Pollock’s suggestion, the young collector Ben Heller visits Newman’s studio. The following year, Heller acquires two paintings, Adam and Queen of the Night I, for $3,500.
On August 11, while Lee Krasner is in Europe, Jackson Pollock dies in a car accident on Long Island. Barney and Annalee are among the close friends who travel to Springs, Long Island, to be with Krasner upon her return.
Newman is included in American Painting 1945-1957 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in June. His troubles with critics continue. Reviewing the show for the New Republic, Frank Getlein writes that “the most asinine thing on board is Barnett Newman’s ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimis’ in the Design Division. Eight feet high, ‘Vir’ is damn near 18 feet across and is painted a flat red.” In a letter to the editor, Newman replies: “It was unnecessary for Mr. Getlein to swear at the ‘damn’ size of my pictures when a glance at the exhibition catalogue would have given him the exact size.”
The Newmans spend Thanksgiving with Krasner on Long Island. Two days later, at a dinner party at the Manhattan home of artist Jeanne Reynal and writer Thomas Sills, Newman suffers a heart attack. He is hospitalized for six weeks.
With the help of Newman’s mother and sister, Annalee nurses him in their Brooklyn Heights apartment. He is able to do some painting at home, and the first work he completes after his heart attack is Outcry
. Around February, Newman has the canvases stretched for what will become First Station
and Second Station
Ben Heller invites Alfred Barr and Dorothy Miller of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to visit Newman’s studio. As a result, four of his paintings, Abraham
, Horizon Light
, and Adam
, are included in MoMA’s traveling exhibition The New American Painting
. The exhibition debuts at the Kunsthalle Basel on April 19 and travels to Milan, Madrid, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London before opening in New York the following year.
E. C. Goossen, the director of exhibitions and professor of art at Bennington College in Vermont, offers Newman a retrospective exhibition in May. Installed by faculty members Tony Smith and Paul Feeley, the show consists of approximately eighteen works dating from 1946 to 1952. Clement Greenberg contributes an essay.
British art critic Lawrence Alloway, on his first trip to the United States, visits the Bennington exhibition with Newman’s former dealer, Betty Parsons. Alloway soon calls on Newman in his studio, where he sees the artist’s latest paintings on raw canvas, not yet titled First Station
and Second Station
“The Philosophic Line of B. Newman” by Goossen, the first magazine article devoted to Newman’s work, appears in the summer issue of ARTnews
In October, the Newmans move from Brooklyn Heights to 685 West End Avenue in Manhattan, where they will reside for the rest of the artist’s life.
Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950, 1951) at Newman's first retrospective exhibition, Bennington College, Vermont, 1958
On a buying trip for the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Arnold Rüdlinger views Day Before One
on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and arranges to purchase it. Basel thus becomes the first public collection to acquire a Newman painting. The Museum of Modern Art follows later this year, purchasing Abraham
and becoming then the only American museum to own a work by Newman.
In March, Barnett Newman: A Selection 1946-1952
inaugurates the new contemporary gallery at French and Company at 978 Madison Avenue in New York. The exhibition, initiated by Clement Greenberg, an adviser to the gallery, covers the same period as the Bennington retrospective but is larger, with twenty-nine paintings.
Such critics as Dore Ashton (New York Times
), Hilton Kramer (Arts Magazine
), and Hubert Crehan (ARTnews
) remain unsympathetic to Newman’s work. But the show is received with interest by the younger generation of New York artists, for whom this is the first opportunity to experience Newman’s paintings. Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella are among those who attend.
In August, the Newmans travel to Emma Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, where Barney leads a summer workshop for Canadian artists. Newman proves highly influential for the young artists in attendance, several of whom subsequently move to New York. One of these, sculptor Robert Murray, would later explain: “He helped us get over our provincial paranoia. . . . He made it seem important to be an artist.”
Emma Lake Artists' Workshop participants, 1959
Newman with Larry Poons, Frank Stella, and Laura Grisi. Photo by Lisa Steipes
Announcement for Newman's exhibition at French and Company, Inc., 1959
Newman completes his third and fourth paintings using black paint on raw canvas. It is now that he begins to think of the series as the Stations of the Cross. Newman continues working on the Stations, off and on, for the next six years.
Newman makes a series of twenty-two ink drawings on fourteen-by-ten-inch and twelve-by-nine-inch paper. Along with three drawings from 1959, these are the first graphic works he has created since 1949.
In addition to his Front Street studio, Newman rents a space in the Carnegie Hall building at 881 Seventh Avenue in November.
In January, Ben Heller purchases Vir Heroicus Sublimis. Other significant sales this year will be L’Errance to Robert and Ethel Scull and Onement VI to Frederick and Marcia Weisman.
Newman’s younger brother, George, dies suddenly on February 1, sending the artist into a deep depression. Wanting to coax his bereft friend back to work, artist Cleve Gray invites Newman to join him making lithographs at the Pratt Institute Graphic Art Center. In this, his first experience with printmaking, Newman completes three black-and-white lithographs. Soon after, he paints the black-on-raw-canvas painting Shining Forth (To George) in memory of his brother, whose Hebrew name had been Zerach, “to shine.”
In the spring, Newman has a notorious dispute with art historian Erwin Panofsky in the pages of ARTnews over the spelling of “Sublimis,” which had been misspelled in a photo caption for Vir Heroicus Sublimis as “Sublimus.” Newman defends the misprint as a grammatically correct alternative but also claims, “the basic fact about a work of art . . . [is that] it must rise above grammar and syntax-pro gloria Dei.”
In September, Newman, who has long objected to juried exhibitions, writes to the director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, offering to establish a five-hundred-dollar “Barnett Newman Award for an Artist Not Invited to the Pittsburgh International.” His check is returned.
In January, Newman declines invitations to participate in The Formalists
at the Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C., and Geometric Abstraction at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
With Robert Murray’s assistance, Newman casts his 1950 sculpture Here I
at Modern Art Foundry in Queens. The resulting bronze is titled Here I (To Marcia)
, after collector Marcia Weisman, who had urged Newman to make the casting.
On June 3 Newman participates in the symposium Modern Art and Mass Culture
, hosted by Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.
On October 23 Newman-De Kooning
, an exhibition of “two founding fathers,” opens at the Allan Stone Gallery at 48 East Eighty-sixth Street. De Kooning’s and Newman’s paintings are hung side by side in galleries designed by Tony Smith. The critical tide is turning in Newman’s favor. Thomas Hess, who in 1951 flippantly dismissed Newman as a “genial theoretician,” now ranks him as one of the “most remarkable artists alive today.”
Newman and William de Kooning at the Sculls’ in Great Neck, Long Island
Brochure for the "Modern Art and Mass Culture" symposium at Brandeis University, 1962
Harold Rosenberg’s laudatory biographical essay “Barnett Newman, A Man of Controversy and Spiritual Grandeur,” appears in the February issue of Vogue
William Lieberman, curator of prints at MoMA, is among those encouraging Newman to accept Tatyana Grosman’s invitation to make lithographs at Universal Limited Art Editions on Long Island. After the single editions printed earlier at Pratt, Newman now decides to do a “book.” He works on four stones in his studio and begins to oversee the printing of the editions at ULAE in September. The work is evolving into a series of lithographic “Cantos.”
In September, Newman contributes the catalogue foreword for Amlash Sculpture from Iran
, the inaugural exhibition at Betty Parsons’s new gallery at 24 West Fifty-seventh Street.
Newman is the only nonarchitect included in the exhibition Recent American Synagogue Architecture
, organized by Richard Meier for the Jewish Museum in New York. With Robert Murray’s assistance, Newman constructs a model of his design, which he describes using the metaphor of baseball: “Here in this synagogue, each man sits, private and secluded in the dugouts, waiting to be called, not to ascend a stage but to go up on the mound, where . . . he can experience a total sense of his own personality before the Torah and His Name.”
Newman working on his synagogue project as Richard Meier looks on, 1963. Photo by Jonathan Holstein
Newman finishes his ULAE project of 14 Cantos
but in April decides that four more prints are needed, now totaling eighteen. The edition size also turns out to be eighteen. Although neither the number of prints nor the edition size has been preplanned, Newman is pleased that the number 18 has made a double appearance in this work as the word for this numeral in Hebrew (chai) also means alive, or living. He designs a vellum box embossed with his initials, in which each lithograph is contained in a separate folder. 18 Cantos, with its musical theme, is dedicated to Annalee.
Newman paints Seventh Station
, Eighth Station
, and Ninth Station
. He also completes Be II
, the painting that will close the Stations series. He begins making plans with Lawrence Alloway—now a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York—to exhibit the Stations of the Cross
In May and June, the Newmans visit Europe for the first time, partly to oversee the installation of Uriel
in the home of British collector Alan Power. After a two-week stay in London, the Newmans visit Basel, Switzerland; and Colmar, Paris and Chartres, France.
In September, Annalee retires from teaching. She is now able to spend her days with Barney in the studio.
In early October, the Newmans travel to Seattle for a symposium on contemporary art organized by the curator Sam Hunter. This is one of many occasions during the 1960s when Newman participates in a public dialogue with critics and art historians: “[Since] paintings can’t be talked about, then the only thing to do is to try to talk about them.”
In November, artist Donald Judd composes an essay (not published until 1970) about the work of Barnett Newman. He writes admiringly: “It’s important that Newman’s paintings are large, but it’s even more important that they are large scaled. His first painting with a stripe, a small one, is large scaled. . . . This scale is one of the most important developments in the twentieth-century art.”
Barnett Newman at the Hotel Krafft, Basel, 1964
Annalee Newman at the Hotel Krafft, Basel, 1964
Newman is included in two exhibitions that mark the final canonization of Abstract Expressionism, The Decisive Years: 1943-1953
at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and New York School, The First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s
at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Newman makes his first steel sculpture, Here II
, at the Treitel-Gratz Company foundry on East Thirty-second Street. Like the bronze Here I (To Marcia)
, Here II is completed in an edition of two.
Curator Walter Hopps designates Newman the central figure of the group of artists he has chosen for the U.S. Pavilion at the Eighth São Paulo Bienal. The other six artists, each more than twenty years Newman’s junior, are (from Los Angeles) Billy Al Bengston, Larry Bell, and Robert Irwin; and (from New York) Donald Judd, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella. At the artist’s request, Newman’s seven paintings and two sculptures are presented out of competition.
The U.S. State Department report of the São Paulo Bienal relates that “Mr. Newman charmed reporters with his frank admiration for architect Oscar Niemeyer and world-famous soccer star Pelé, and—more importantly—impressed São Paulo artists with his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of art, intellectual authority and brilliant apologia for his own work.” Barney and Annalee spend a month in Brazil, visiting São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto, Brasilia, and Bahia.
On November 9, Barney’s mother, Anna Newman, dies.
Newman working on Here II at the Treitel-Gratz Foundry, Astoria, Queens, New York, 1965. Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved. www.ugomulas.org
The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani
opens at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, on April 20. Organized by Lawrence Alloway, it is Newman’s first solo museum exhibition. In the May issue of ARTnews
, Newman writes of the Stations
: “I wished no monuments, no cathedrals. I wanted human scale for the human cry. . . . I wanted to hold the emotion, not waste it in picturesque ecstasies.”
Critics John Canaday and Dore Ashton savage the exhibition, but Stations of the Cross
is well attended and earns Newman attention far beyond the usual boundaries of the art world.
In a public conversation with Thomas Hess on May 1, Newman defends the title of the show, which has been dismissed by some critics as “far-fetched” or “pretentious”: “When I call them Stations of the Cross
, I am saying that these paintings mean something beyond their formal extremes. . . . What I’m saying is that my painting is physical and what I’m saying also is that my painting is metaphysical . . . that my life is physical and my life is also metaphysical.”
Working at the Treitel-Gratz foundry, Newman makes the stainless and Cor-Ten steel sculpture Here III
in an edition of three. This year, he also makes his first painting using the primary colors, red, yellow, and blue.
Newman at the installation of his exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with Orrin Riley and art handlers, 1966. Photo by Robert Murray
Newman at his exhibition The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1966. Photo by Bernard Gotfryd/Newsweek/Getty Images
Newman continues the Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue
paintings, completing one in acrylic. He makes several tall vertical canvases this year, the largest being the eighteen-foot-high Voice of Fire
. In June, the painting is displayed in the U.S. Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal.
On June 7, the second day of the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War, Newman’s name appears on an open letter to the New York Times
calling for the United States to “safeguard the integrity, security, and survival of Israel and its people.” Among the other signers of this statement, written before the war broke out, are Hannah Arendt, Nathan Glazer, Adolph Gottlieb, Irving Howe, and Alfred Kazin.
In August, Newman is invited to speak on “The Spiritual Dimension of Contemporary Art” at the First International Congress on Religion, Architecture, and the Visual Arts in New York. In his remarks, Newman asserts: “What matters to a true artist is that he distinguish between a place and no place at all; and the greater the work of art, the greater will be this feeling. And this feeling is the fundamental spiritual dimension.”
Robert Murray introduces Newman to Lippincott, Inc., a foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, that specializes in fabricating large-scale works of art. There Newman is able to execute the monumental sculpture Broken Obelisk
. The two versions of the sculpture debut in October in front of the Seagram Building in New York and next to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
While working on the pyramid-shaped base of Obelisk
, Newman becomes interested in making a triangular painting. He has two isosceles stretchers made, one eight feet, ten inches high, and the other ten feet high.
In November, the Newmans visit Dublin for the opening of ROSC ’67: The Poetry of Vision
, an exhibition of contemporary and ancient art that includes the recently completed paintings Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue II
; Queen of the Night II
; and Now II
. On this, their second trip to Europe, the Newmans also visit Amsterdam and Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and, again, London, Basel, and Paris.
The book New York: The New Art Scene
, a collaboration between photographer Ugo Mulas and Alan Solomon, the director of the Jewish Museum, is published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Marcel Duchamp and Newman are the two elder figures represented, among such younger artists as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg.
On December 21, Newman signs an open letter in the New York Review of Books
in protest of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
Installation of Broken Obelisk in front of the Seagram Building, New York, 1967. Photo by Judd Mehlman/NY Daily News/Getty Images
In January, the Newmans return to Paris so that Barney can participate in a conference honoring Charles Baudelaire. Newman’s lecture, subsequently published in ARTnews
, is entitled “For Impassioned Criticism”: “What I wish to do is to plead for passionate criticism for the sake of the passionate itself. Just as passion reveals the artist, so does it reveal the critic. And it is in this way that the critic can approach closer to the painter.”
Newman makes his first trip to the Louvre, a visit described by Pierre Schneider in ARTnews
. After Paris, the Newmans travel to Basel; Barcelona, Madrid, El Escorial, and Toledo in Spain; and London.
Shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in April, Newman is invited by collector and Jewish Museum trustee Vera List to contribute to a portfolio of prints in King’s memory. His donation will be in the medium of intaglio. To familiarize himself with the technique he works on small plates, completing eighteen preparatory prints before tackling a larger, formal etching. By this time, he and other artists have withdrawn from the List project, but ULAE publishes Untitled Etching 1
. (The following year Untitled Etching 2
is published. The 18 “practice” etchings are gathered posthumously into seven sets under the title Notes
On April 28, Newman accepts an honorary professorship in drawing from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In June, Newman is forced to leave the 100 Front Street studio he has worked in since 1952. He moves to a three-story studio at 35 White Street, while still maintaining his midtown space at Carnegie Hall.
Among the works Newman completes this year is Anna’s Light
, named in honor of his mother. It is his largest painting, as well as the first to be executed unstretched, attached directly to the studio wall.
In protest of the brutal actions of the police under Mayor Richard J. Daley at the Chicago Democratic Convention, Newman removes Gea
from the exhibition Dada, Surrealism and Their Heritage
at the Art Institute of Chicago. He also makes the sculpture Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley
for an anti-Daley exhibition organized by the Richard Feigen Gallery in Chicago. Newman has plans for a second sculpture, to be titled Mayor Daley’s Outhouse
, but there is not enough time to execute it.
Newman writes the foreword for a new edition of Prince Peter Kropotkin’s memoirs. In it, he recalls: “In the twenties and thirties, the din against libertarian ideas that came from shouting dogmatists, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, and Trotskyite alike, was so shrill it built an intellectual prison that locked one in tight. . . . The reissue now of this classic anarchist literary masterpiece at this moment of revolutionary ferment, when the New Left has already begun to build a new prison with its Marcusian, Maoist, and Guevara walls, is an event of importance for the thinking young and their elders.”
Newman and assistant Tom Crawford in his White Street studio. Photo by Carlo Huber
Newman at the graphics workshop of Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in West Islip, New York, 1968. Photo by Harry Shunk. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
On March 25, Barnett Newman
opens at M. Knoedler and Company at 14 East Fifty-seventh Street. It is Newman’s first one-man gallery show in ten years, and an important debut for his achievements of the 1960s: the first three of the Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue
paintings; large acrylic works such as Now II
and Anna’s Light
; and the two just-completed triangular paintings, Jericho
. In conjunction with the exhibition, the first monograph devoted to Newman is published, written by Thomas Hess.
Although the installation of Newman’s paintings is controversial—several of the works hang high on the wall against dark velvet—the show is widely covered and generally praised. Even negative reviews leave no question as to Newman’s importance. The exhibition attracts as much attention as the museum retrospectives of Willem de Kooning and David Smith the same year.
Newman, whose White Street studio is one of the many artists’ spaces jeopardized by the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, joins the group Artists Against the Expressway. On June 19 he speaks at an anti-expressway rally at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The following month, under pressure from numerous community groups, Mayor John Lindsay announces that plans for the expressway have been permanently dropped.
Newman makes Zim Zum I
at Lippincott, Inc. He originally intends the sculpture to stand twelve feet high but scales it down to eight feet so that it can be shipped to Tokyo for an exhibition at the Hakone Open-Air Museum.
On September 12, Newman is the inaugural speaker at his friend Dan Flavin’s exhibition fluorescent light, etc., from Dan Flavin
at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Ten paintings and three sculptures spanning Newman’s career from 1946 to 1969 appear in the exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940-1970
, organized by Henry Geldzahler for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Newman begins plans for a large retrospective exhibition to be organized by Thomas Hess. The project expands to involve the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Tate Gallery in London, the Grand Palais in Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This first comprehensive presentation of Newman’s work will eventually open at MoMA on October 21, 1971.
Newman's studio at 35 White Street with Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV (1970), 1970. Photo by Paulus Leeser
Newman at his exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery, 1969
In January, Newman contributes to an ARTnews feature honoring the Metropolitan Museum of Art on its hundredth anniversary. Reflecting on his early visits to the Met, Newman writes: “I have always had a distaste—even a disdain for reproductions and photographs of artworks—even those of my own work. . . . I can only feel fortunate that my art education came not from the scrutiny of photographs and the spectaculars of slides or even from teachers, but . . . from myself in front of the real thing.
Newman signs a “Declaration of Solidarity with Soviet Jews,” organized by the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews, and speaks at the press conference announcing the statement.
On May 17, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, honors Newman with a Creative Arts Medal in Painting.
In late spring, Emile de Antonio interviews Newman for his film Painters Painting, an oral history of the New York art world. Newman recounts a story from early in his career: “Some twenty-two years ago in a gathering, I was asked what my painting really means in terms of society, in terms of the world. . . . And my answer then was that if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism. Because to the extent that my painting was not an arrangement of objects, not an arrangement of spaces, not an arrangement of graphic elements, was [instead] an open painting . . . to that extent I thought, and I still believe, that my work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society.”
On July 4, Barnett Newman, aged sixty-five, dies of a heart attack.