This gallery presents the work surrounding and including Onement I, the
painting Barnett Newman regarded as his artistic breakthrough. He equated its
making with his own self-creation as an artist, a notion reinforced by his
assertion that he created it on his birthday, January 29, 1948. The masking
tape with which Newman reserved the zone for a vertical band, as he had done
in earlier paintings and drawings, remains on the canvas in Onement I.
It is covered by the red oil paint that Newman laid on with a palette knife.
This "zip," as Newman would later call his motif of a vertical band,
is not "zippy" at all-it is thick and irregular, made in many starts
Onement I represents the first time that the vertical band seen in
Newman's work of the previous three years wholly defines the structure of the
painting, without atmospheric imagery or separable details. This painting marked
Newman's decisive move from what he called a "picture" to a
"painting"-an indivisible whole that represented nothing but itself,
a unity suggested by the word Newman later chose for its title: onement.