Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was the one who talked the most. He had many ideas about what a painting should be and was constantly trying to explain them in articles, public statements, manifestoes, letters to newspapers, or just impromptu conversations at the Betty Parsons Gallery, where he often could be found on Saturday afternoons holding forth among friends. By now many of us are familiar with the things Newman said. He believed that his paintings (and occasional sculptures) were closely related to primitive art. He believed they transcended appearances and made contact with what he called emotional absolutes. For him, the “sublime” and the “awesome” weren't merely byproducts of art, but qualities to be directly pursued and promoted, and he championed them as assiduously as politicians of his era championed victory gardens. Among the many ironies surrounding his career is that he took a...


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