Barnett Newman, an American-based painter who lived from 1905 – 1970, is linked predominately to the New York Abstract Expressionist school. Even more than Mark Rothko somber coloristic paintings, Newman’s work is perhaps the most minimal of the Abstract Expressionists, as he was strongly involved in color field or monochromatic painting.

His paintings are trademarked by what Newman called “zips”. These are painted lines on canvasses of block colors that define the spacial structure of his painting. One of his best known works is Vir Heroicus Sublimis (“The Sublime is Now”) from 1950-1. When it was first exhibited, Newman wrote:

There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance.

These “zips” were also actualised in 3-dimensional forms, such as The Wild (1950).

See some of his work at the Museum of Modern Art for their Abstract Expressionist New York exhibition that runs until April 25, 2011.


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  1. The Inforcer

    Abstract Expressionism on a minimalism blog? This is exactly what the Minimalists rejected. They sought to remove the emotion and gestural expression from art in an effort to create works that were objects. You can look at his post-painterly abstraction, shaped canvas and say that Newman’s work was a precursor to Minimalists such as Stella, but his work was still about events and things — which is very un-Minimalist.

  2. I know that it seems controversial or contradictory to post something like this on Minimalissimo, but I never intended to argue that this work is minimalist, but instead that elements of it are, and that it is definitely a precursor to the work of people like Flavin, Stella and Kelly.

    I was also trying to point out that there was a big split between what Newman was doing and what someone like Pollock or de Kooning was doing. Apart from Ad Reinhardt (who detested being associated with the term), Newman definitely made the most minimal “abstract expressionist” work.

    Judd started off as an abstract expressionist painter before moving into his “minimalist” style. Newman’s work seems to to exist in a transient state between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism.

    In terms of the minimalists attempting to create works that were objects, I agree that Newman’s shaped canvases were a precursor to this, but I think actualising the “zips” in sculptural forms were also quite influential.

  3. The Inforcer

    That’s fair enough. I might have also had a small paragraph explaining the differences between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. That way, if anyone doesn’t know the difference, they get educated and we can further the definition of what Minimalism is.

    I’ve been reading this site for a while, and while its interesting I often question the definition of Minimalism used here. I didn’t mean to come off as rude, so I hope you didn’t feel that way. I wrote my thesis on Minimalism, so I sometimes get worked up about it. :)

  4. This is really a beautiful body of work, one of which we have at my school’s museum in Chicago. Really glad you posted him, his work needs to be known, despite his style category.

  5. Kay Bellafonte

    It is so interesting that Newman refers to his lines as “zips”. He views them as a joining force, not dividing.



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