Barnett Newman: The Late Work
The work of artist Barnett Newman (1905-1970) has come to define the spiritual aspirations and material innovations of American painting in the mid-twentieth century. Large and bold vertical planes of color, with thin upright lines that came to be known as “zips,” characterize Newman’s vocabulary of form. In contrast to the horizontal compositions that define the landscape tradition in Western art, Newman’s work reflects the upright posture of the human body. For the artist, this reorientation was deeply political. He felt it could free painting from the past and allow an entirely new awareness for the viewer through the ineffable experience of standing in front of his work. In his essay from 1948, “The Sublime is Now,” Newman wrote, “We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man or ‘life’ we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.”
Having come to a career as an artist later in life, Newman’s produced a relatively small body of work. In 1970, when he passed at the age of 65, he left a group of work in his studio that included unfinished paintings. In an arrested state of development, the unfinished works offer a rare opportunity to study the late work in relationship to Newman’s broader production. Because the artist did not make preparatory studies, these works, as paintings in process, reveal the remarkable material and technical innovations and transformations, including his shift from oil to acrylic paint, in his work from 1965-1970. In dialogue with his early work from the late 1940s and early 1950s, they also provide a way of understanding the formal evolution of his painting process throughout his oeuvre.
This will be the first exhibition to focus on Newman’s production in the last five years of his life. It will present a focused selection of his paintings from 1965-1970, alongside major paintings by Newman that were produced throughout his career from The Menil Collection and on loan from other important museums and private lenders in the United States and Europe. Significant loans include Day Before I, 1951 and White Fire IV, from the Kunstmuseum, Basel.
The unique breadth of the curatorial team reflects the intellectual scope of the exhibition’s material study and theoretical approach to the presentation of Newman’s work. The Menil has one of the most important collections of Newman work, including three unfinished paintings. It has also undertaken significant technical studies of the artist’s paintings over the last ten years.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a scholarly publication that will contextualize the unfinished paintings within the arch of Newman’s work and offer an in-depth technical analysis of the late paintings.
This exhibition is generously supported by The John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation;
National Endowment for the Arts; Nancy and Mark Abendshein, Susanne and Bill Pritchard;
Leslie and Shannon Sasser; Taub Foundation: Marcy Taub Wessel and Henry J.N. Taub II;
Frost Bank; Suzanne Deal Booth; Janet and Paul Hobby; Gensler; Russell Reynolds Associates and
the City of Houston.
Barnett Newman, Shimmer Bright, 1968, Oil on canvas, 72 x 84 ¼, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Annalee Newman, 1991
Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now
The technique known as rubbing or frottage falls somewhere between drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, combining elements of all these mediums. It involves making an impression of an object through the transfer of its forms onto a sheet of paper, which is usually achieved by rubbing the paper over the object or incised surface with a marking agent such as graphite or wax crayon. The term frottage derives from the French frotter (to rub) and is most commonly associated today with the Surrealist artist Max Ernst and the idiosyncratic images that he created from a variety of surfaces, including wood and leaves, for his famous print portfolio Histoire Naturelle (1926). Ernst claimed that he discovered the technique in 1925, while gazing at the floorboards of his hotel room, and he regarded it as his contribution to automatism. As a type of automatic drawing, or a partially indirect process applied to achieve unpremeditated imaginary compositions, frottage became one of the key practices of Surrealist drawing.
Whether used for documentation or as a form of artistic expression, rubbings can be regarded as shadows of an object, and to a certain extent they can be seen as capturing a moment in time. Their spectral appearance evokes a sense of ghostliness—indeed, the artist Henri Michaux referred to his rubbings as “apparitions”—and their subjects are often traces of the human body or eerie remnants of a lost place or time. The exhibition Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now will examine the use of this particular medium from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The technique itself is the element that links works by artists from different periods of the modern era, and from different parts of the world, including historical figures such as the Czech Surrealist Jindřich Štýrský; masters of twentieth century avant-garde movements like Arte Povera with Alighiero Boetti and Giuseppe Penone; members of the Pop Art movement such as Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine; and contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Gabriel Orozco, and Zarina. The exhibition will also feature lesser known figures, such as the Czech artist Adriena Simotova, who recently passed away at the age of 91.
In fact, Ernst’s frottage technique is rooted in an important tradition of rubbing for artistic, historical, and scientific purposes that can be traced as far back as the sixth century AD. The transfers on paper of designs and inscriptions in ancient Chinese tombs, for instance, are sometimes all that remain of sites that have since disappeared. In Britain, there has been an enthusiasm for brass rubbings and the reproduction of tomb designs and memorial plaques in medieval churches since the early nineteenth century. Today, these works are more than mere records as they represent specific aesthetic choices of the “rubbers” of past eras. Over the centuries, leaf and plant rubbings have provided accurate reproductions of the natural world. Here too, careful compositional judgment was applied to the presentation of these reproductive works that nestle between art and science. Rarely exhibited examples of monumental British brass tomb rubbings and plant rubbings made for scientific purposes have been selected for the installation.
Apparitions will be the first museum exhibition to present an in-depth and comprehensive survey of a versatile technique that is both deeply rooted in art history and intrinsically current. Works by approximately 60 artists will be featured in the exhibition, which will be divided into loosely chronological and thematic sections. The eclectic yet singularly focused selection will demonstrate the multifaceted ways in which artists have played with this technique, using it to expand the traditional boundaries of draftsmanship. Apparitions is co-organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and The Menil Collection, Houston, and is curated by Allegra Pesenti. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.
Do Ho Suh. Rubbing/Loving Project: Metal Jacket, 2014. Colored pencil on mulberry paper. 85.5 x 69 in. (217.2 x 175.3 cm).
©Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.
March 27 - August 2, 2015
The Late Work
September 10, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Frottages and Rubbings
from 1860 to Now