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Barnett Newman. Onement I. 1948

Oil on canvas and oil on masking tape on canvas, 27 1/4 x 16 1/4" (69.2 x 41.2 cm). Gift of Annalee Newman. © 2024 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curator, Ann Temkin: Onement, I is the first painting that Newman made, which contains the device for which he would become famous, and what became later known as the "zip." The zips were basically vertical lines that divided a canvas into different sections.

This first zip painting is made, with the masking tape set directly on top of the background color, the kind of wonderful maroon. And then that masking tape is painted over, with this very expressive brushy red–orange that is so bright compared to that background beneath it.

The fact that the masking tape remains on Onement, I shows us how much of an experiment it really was—that Newman did not know what was happening when he first made it. This is a small painting. And yet, the possibilities that lay within it for vast paintings are evident in the room around you.