Barnett Newman. Abraham. 1949

Barnett Newman Abraham 1949

  • MoMA, Floor 4, 404 The David Geffen Galleries

Roughly the size of a tall man, Abraham is a dark painting with a black zip placed off-center on a brown field. The figure-ground relationship between zip and field is ambiguous, and the work therefore reads almost as a solid slab. Newman compared the experience of viewing it to that of confronting another man head-on. Since his breakthrough with Onement, I, he felt that he had thrown off the burdens of art history—including notions of compositional order and pictorial space—and forged a new beginning for painting. He saw abstraction as a language: while his paintings lacked what art historian Meyer Schapiro termed “object matter” (recognizable images), for Newman they expressed the highest metaphysical and spiritual themes, or, in Schapiro’s terms, “subject matter.” This is true of Abraham, whose title evokes both Newman’s own father and the Old Testament father who nearly sacrificed his son to God.

Additional text from In The Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting online course, Coursera, 2017
Oil on canvas
6' 10 3/4" x 34 1/2" (210.2 x 87.7 cm)
Philip Johnson Fund
Object number
© 2020 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

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