Visual Descriptions

Barnett Newman. Broken Obelisk. 1963-69 70

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. © 2021 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Narrator 1: 7–0. Broken Obelisk. Made between 1963 and 1967 by American artist Barnett Newman, 1905–1970. Cor–ten steel, in two parts, overall twenty–five feet five inches high by ten feet six inches square. 775 x 320 cm square.

Narrator 2: This huge steel sculpture is over twenty–five feet high: you’d have to crane your neck to see the top of it.

It’s formed of two parts. The lower part is a pyramid. This pyramid alone is ten and a half feet high. So even if the sculpture ended there, you’d still feel dwarfed by it. But balanced on top of the pyramid, is a giant square–sided column or obelisk. The obelisk extends up another 15 feet. It has a pointed tip, like a pencil, and is resting, point downwards, on the tip of the pyramid.

The point at which the two parts meet is just over two inches square, small in comparison with the massiveness of the overall sculpture. In fact the two pieces are held together by a steel pole, which runs between them through the inside of the pyramid to the inside of the obelisk. But we can’t see this pole; the sculpture looks incredibly precarious.

Knowing that the work is made of steel, you might imagine it being smooth, shiny and reflective. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s dark grey, and the surface is dull and appears rusty and weathered. It would be rough to the touch.

At the top of the work the inverted obelisk appears to have been broken off jaggedly. This broken, rough edge contrasts strongly with the strict geometry of the rest of the work. There’s also an exciting tension between the upward thrust of the pyramid and the plunging, downward sweep of the obelisk. Despite its massive size, the work has a soaring quality. It seems to defy gravity.

Narrator 1: To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 2–0–7.

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