East Terrace -- Broken Obelisk
Broken Obelisk, currently displayed on the East Terrace of the Museum,
is Barnett Newman's most massive sculpture and yet his most soaring.
Broken Obelisk posits a dramatic collision of downward and upward
forces. The crux of the piece and the source of its paradoxical airiness
is the narrow point at which an inverted obelisk balances precariously on
the tip of an 8 1/2-foot-high pyramid. The area of contact is only 2 1/4
inches square-a steel rod inside the structure holds the two elements in
alignment, making for an overall height of 26 feet. Made of Cor-Ten steel,
the sculpture weighs over 6,000 pounds. The topmost surface, where the shaft
of the obelisk has "broken," is jagged and irregular, suggesting
infinite height but also providing a literal break from rigid geometry.
The deliberately rough surface of the steel lends a weathered appearance
that reinforces the sense of the pyramid and obelisk as ancient forms,
despite the utter modernity of the sculpture.
Although conceived in 1963, Broken Obelisk was not made until 1967,
when Newman enlisted the expertise of Lippincott, Inc., a foundry in
Connecticut that specializes in the creation of monumental sculpture.
That year, two examples of the sculpture debuted almost simultaneously,
one in front of New York's Seagram Building as part of the citywide show
Sculpture in Environment; the other outside the Corcoran Gallery
in Washington, D.C., in the exhibition Scale as Content. The sculpture
immediately met with great acclaim and remains perhaps Newman's best-loved
work. A third Broken Obelisk, on display here, was made in 1969 and
is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The other
versions of Broken Obelisk are permanently installed in front of the
Rothko Chapel in Houston (where it is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.) and on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.