Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk 1963/67 is powerfully symbolic and acutely political. The monumental sculpture combines the qualities of ancient forms with the geometry of modern architecture and materials. The genesis of the work is traceable through, and runs parallel to, Newman’s painting practice; it is, moreover, closely entwined with his small but impressive sculptural output. The artist’s first three-dimensional work, Here I 1950, forecasts the emphatic vertically of his forms while his final sculptures, Zim Zum I and Zim Zum II 1969, suggest mystic, all-enveloping spaces that expand beyond human scale towards the architectural.[i] Although Newman himself differentiated between the ‘planar’ and ‘volumetric’ problems of his work, he wanted both his paintings and sculpture to ‘give the onlooker a sense of place, a sense of being there’.[ii]
[i] Here I (Menil Collection, Houston), Zim Zum I (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and Zim Zum II (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf).
[ii] Newman, as he stated in a 1966 interview with Washington Post critic Andrew Hudson, considered the elements of his practice quite separately: ‘I do not consider my sculpture to be a three-dimensional equivalent of my paintings. I think the problems are altogether different. Painting is a planar art. Sculpture involves for me the problem of volume. But I hope that both the sculpture and the painting give the onlooker a sense of place, a sense of being there’. Barnett Newman, Barnett Newman: Selected writings and interviews, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, p 273.
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Barnett Newman Broken obelisk 1963/67 / 2005 © 2018 The Barnett Newman Foundation, New York/ARS, New York/Copyright Agency The Barnett Newman Foundation Learn more