Barnett Newman

Gallery Five

In August 1950 Barnett Newman moved to a studio that afforded him the space to make his first eight-by-eighteen-foot painting. At this time many New York artists, such as Jackson Pollock, also had begun to make extremely large canvases. The size of these works served several purposes, one of which was to declare the artists' ambition. Another was to create art too large to fit in people's homes, thus preventing the works being used for merely decorative purposes. According to the critic Clement Greenberg, once a painting no longer gave the illusion of depth, it had no choice but to expand laterally. When Vir Heroicus Sublimis (Latin for "man, heroic and sublime") made its debut in Newman's second show at the Betty Parsons Gallery, Newman posted this statement: "There is a tendency to look at large paintings from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance." In other words, their powerful impact was not to be tamed. Yet Newman always said that what counted was scale, not size, and he wanted to see if it was possible to create a large-scale canvas that was not a large size. He achieved this aim with paintings such as The Wild, which presents the zip itself as a painting. That same year, Newman also made his first foray into presenting his zips as three-dimensional forms sculpted in plaster (shown here in a later bronze cast).

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Vir Heroicus Sublimis
1950/1951
Oil on canvas
7' 11 3/8" x 17' 9 1/4" (242.2 x 513.6 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller.
Photograph © 2002 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Vir Heroicus Sublimis
The Wild
1950
Oil on canvas
7' 11 3/4" x 1 5/8" (243 x 4.1 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Kulicke Family.
Photograph © 2002 The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The Wild
Philadelphia Museum of Art