Broken Obelisk

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Broken Obelisk

Barnett Newman. Broken Obelisk. 1963-69. Cor-Ten steel, 24' 7 1/4" x 10' 5 1/2" x 10' 5 1/2" (749.9 x 318.8 x 318.8 cm). Given anonymously. © 2014 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Audio Program excerpt

MoMA Audio: Collection

2008

Curator, Ann Temkin: The obelisk is a form from ancient Egyptian art that was a memorial. And what you have here is the top of the obelisk kissing, in a sense, the top of the pyramid—another Egyptian form—its bottom jaggedly cut midway, facing upward to the sky. This is a sculpture, which stands on its head, literally.

Made in 1967—a time of great unrest in the United States—what Newman is achieving here is a memorial form, which is not a memorial to anything in particular. There is this idea of soaring aspiration unfulfilled, a lament for a time that isnt any more one of heroes, but one of assassinations, of broken dreams, disappointments, hopes. I think it reflects Newman's democratic, fundamentally populist political feelings, very much wanting to invent a symbol that represents everybody.