Barnett Newman


Barnett Newman is born on January 29, 1905, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents, Abraham and Anna Newman, are Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York City from Russian Poland in 1900. Barney, as he is known to family and friends, has three younger siblings: George, Gertrude, and Sarah.

Abraham makes a living selling sewing-machine heads to garment workers and later establishes a clothing manufacturing company. The business thrives, and by 1915 the Newmans move to the middle-class Tremont section of the Bronx. Barney attends De Witt Clinton High School in Manhattan and, during his senior year, studies drawing at the Art Students League.

Newman attends City College of New York, majoring in philosophy. He also continues to take drawing classes at the Art Students League.

Upon graduating in 1927, Newman enters his father's business in order to build up savings to support himself as an artist. This plan is upended by the 1929 stock-market crash, as Newman must stay on to try to keep the company solvent.

In 1931, as his family's business continues to founder, Newman becomes a substitute art teacher in the New York City public school system, earning $7.50 a day. He will continue to teach full time until 1940.

November. Just before the election, Newman and his friend Alexander Borodulin offer themselves as write-in candidates for New York City mayor and comptroller, respectively, running on a platform advocating civic art programs.

February. At a school faculty meeting, Newman meets Annalee Greenhouse, a shorthand teacher. The couple begins a courtship nurtured by a mutual passion for music.

January. Newman publishes The Answer, a magazine promoting civil service and the rights of public workers, but is unable to sustain it beyond his first issue.

June 30. Annalee and Barney marry. For their honeymoon, they travel to Concord, Massachusetts-where they visit the houses of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson-and Ogunquit, Maine. Upon their return to New York, the newlyweds take an apartment on West Twenty-third Street in Chelsea.

November 28. Having repeatedly failed the exam to become a regular art teacher, rather than a substitute, Newman organizes Can We Draw? The Board of Examiners Says-No! at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York. The protest exhibition, consisting of work rejected by the New York City public schools' Board of Examiners, gains the support of well-known artists Max Weber and Thomas Hart Benton.

October. Newman gives up substitute teaching for a part-time job teaching silk-screen printing and batik to adults. He spends his spare time at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the American Museum of Natural History. Over the summer, the Newmans study ornithology and marine life at an Audubon Society camp in Maine.

The Newmans move to an apartment at 343 East Nineteenth Street, where they will live for the next fifteen years. They spend the summer taking botany and ornithology classes at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

January. Newman applies to be classified as a conscientious objector to World War II, although he has already been disqualified from military service for physical reasons.

Newman helps his friends Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko compose a letter to the New York Times, printed June 13, that states: "There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject-matter is valid which is timeless and tragic."

Newman meets Betty Parsons, who is then running a small gallery in the Wakefield Bookshop at 64 East Fifty-fifth Street, New York. They develop a close working relationship.

May 16. The exhibition Pre-Columbian Stone Sculpture, organized by Newman, opens at the Wakefield Gallery.

Summer. While vacationing in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, Newman completes a number of crayon and ink drawings and watercolors, his first surviving works.

Newman paints his first known work on canvas. During the next few years, he continues to make drawings and paintings but is also busy as a writer, penning reviews and exhibition catalogue forewords.

September 30. Betty Parsons opens her own gallery at 15 East Fifty-seventh Street, New York, and Newman organizes the first exhibition, Northwest Coast Indian Painting.

December. Newman joins the Betty Parsons Gallery's roster of artists, which already includes his friends Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. The following year, Newman will introduce Parsons to Jackson Pollock, who will join the gallery as well.

January. Newman organizes The Ideographic Picture at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The exhibition features eight artists from the Parsons stable, including Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Newman himself.

Spring. Barney quits teaching. Annalee supports them both on her teacher's salary, as she will do for the next seventeen years.

October. Newman's essay "The First Man Was an Artist" appears in the small arts journal The Tiger's Eye. Later this year, Newman makes this statement in the magazine: "An artist paints so that he will have something to look at; at times he must write so that he will also have something to read."

November. Newman's painting Euclidian Abyss (1946-47) is purchased by Connecticut collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine. This is Newman's first sale.

January 29. Newman paints Onement I. He comes to view this painting as a major breakthrough, and the next two years are the most prolific of his career.

December. Newman's essay "The Sublime Is Now" appears in The Tiger's Eye. He writes: "I believe that here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it."

Newman makes seventeen paintings, the largest number he will ever complete in a single year. He stops making drawings.

Summer. While on a trip to see Annalee's relatives, the Newmans visit the prehistoric Native American mounds in the southwestern and central parts of Ohio, an experience that deeply impresses Barney.

January 23. Newman's first solo exhibition opens at the Betty Parsons Gallery. The response to the show is largely negative. Thomas Hess in ARTnews writes: "Newman is out to shock, but he is not out to shock the bourgeoisie-that has been done. He likes to shock other artists." A single painting, End of Silence (1949), sells to a friend of Annalee's.

April 23. Newman's second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery opens. Among the works of art included is Newman's first eighteen-foot-long painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950/1951), the tall, extremely narrow painting The Wild (1950), and his first sculpture, Here I (1950). Critics condemn the exhibition and no paintings sell. In the following months, Newman removes his work from the Betty Parsons Gallery and withdraws from all gallery activities. He does not exhibit between 1951 and 1955.

August 23. As a speaker at the Woodstock Art Conference in Woodstock, New York, Newman attacks professional aestheticians, making remarks he would later hone into the famous quip, "Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds."

January 29. Newman turns fifty. He has sold only a few paintings, and just one to someone who is not a personal friend. Even with Annalee working two teaching jobs, the Newmans' financial situation is precarious. The couple resorts to taking loans, pawning a few valuables, and, in Barney's case, trying to develop a winning scheme at the horse track. Sometime this year, the Newmans move to 62 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Newman makes one very large painting, Uriel, in 1955. He then stops painting for over two years.

June. Ben Heller, a young collector who had been introduced to Newman by Jackson Pollock the previous year, acquires two paintings: Adam (1951/1952) and Queen of the Night I (1951).

November 30. Newman suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized for six weeks.

Newman slowly recuperates from his heart attack. He completes, at home, Outcry, his first painting since 1955. Soon after, he makes the paintings that will be later known as First Station and Second Station.

April 19. Four of Newman's paintings are included in The New American Painting, an influential international exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The show debuts in Basel, Switzerland, and travels to seven other European cities before opening in New York in 1959.

May 4. Barnett Newman: First Retrospective Exhibition opens at Bennington College in Vermont. A catalogue essay by Clement Greenberg accompanies the show of approximately eighteen works dating from 1946 to 1952.

October. The Newmans move from Brooklyn Heights to 685 West End Avenue in Manhattan, where they will reside for the rest of the artist's life.

February. The Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel in Switzerland acquires Day Before One (1951), becoming the first museum to own a Newman painting. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, follows later this year with the purchase of Abraham (1949).

March 11. Barnett Newman: A Selection 1946-1952 opens at French and Company at 978 Madison Avenue, New York. Such critics as Dore Ashton (New York Times) and Hilton Kramer (Arts Magazine) remain unsympathetic to Newman's work but the show is received with interest by the younger generation of New York artists.

August. Newman leads a summer workshop for Canadian artists at Emma Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. He proves highly influential to the young artists in attendance, several of whom subsequently move to New York.

After finishing his fourth painting using black paint on raw canvas, Newman begins to think of these works as a series, which he titles The Stations of the Cross. He will continue to work on Stations, off and on, for the next six years.

Newman completes twenty-two ink drawings. Along with three drawings from 1959, these are his first works on paper since 1949.

Newman makes his first lithographs, at the Pratt Institute Graphic Art Center.

Newman casts his 1950 wood and plaster sculpture Here I, titling the resulting bronze Here I (To Marcia) after collector Marcia Weisman, who had urged him to make the casting.

October 23. Newman-De Kooning, an exhibition of "two founding fathers," opens at the Allan Stone Gallery at 48 East Eighty-sixth Street, New York.

October 6. Newman contributes to the exhibition Recent American Synagogue Architecture organized by Richard Meier for the Jewish Museum in New York.

May. Newman completes a series of color lithographs at the graphics workshop Universal Limited Art Editions on Long Island. Barney dedicates the portfolio, 18 Cantos, with its musical theme, to Annalee.

May and June. The Newmans travel to Europe for the first time, visiting England, Switzerland, Germany, and France.

September. Annalee retires from teaching. She is now able to spend her days with Barney in the studio.

September 4. The Eighth São Paulo Bienal opens, with Newman as the central figure in a group of six artists chosen by curator Walter Hopps for the U.S. Pavilion. The other Americans-Billy Al Bengston, Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella-are each more than twenty years younger than Newman. The Newmans attend the opening and spend a month traveling in Brazil.

April 20. The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani opens at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. It is Newman's first solo museum exhibition. Critics such as John Canaday (New York Times) savage the exhibition but The Stations of the Cross is well attended and earns Newman recognition far beyond the usual boundaries of the art world.

Newman makes Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue I, his first painting using the primary colors together.

Newman executes the monumental steel sculpture Broken Obelisk at Lippincott, Inc., a foundry in North Haven, Connecticut. Two versions of the sculpture debut in October: one in front of the Seagram Building in New York and the other next to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

While working on Broken Obelisk, Newman has the two isosceles canvases made that will become the paintings Jericho (1968-69) and Chartres (1969).

January. The Newmans travel to Paris so that Barney can participate in a conference honoring the nineteenth-century poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire. They also visit Switzerland, Spain, and England.

Among the paintings Newman completes this year is Anna's Light, named in honor of his mother. At nine by twenty feet, it is his largest work, as well as the first to be painted unstretched, attached directly to the studio wall.

Summer. Newman makes his first etchings, a series of eighteen small prints titled Notes.

October 23. Newman's sculpture Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley is included in the exhibition Richard J. Daley at the Richard Feigen Gallery in Chicago. Newman made the sculpture especially for this show, in protest against the brutal actions of the police under Mayor Richard J. Daley at the Chicago Democratic Convention.

March 25. Newman's first one-man gallery show in ten years opens at M. Knoedler and Company, New York. The show is widely covered and generally praised. Even negative reviews leave no question as to Newman's importance.

Spring. In an interview with filmmaker Emile de Antonio, Newman recounts a story from early in his career: "Some twenty-two years ago in a gathering, I was asked what my painting really means in terms of society, in terms of the world. . . . And my answer then was that if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism. Because to the extent that my painting was not an arrangement of objects, not an arrangement of spaces, not an arrangement of graphic elements, was [instead] an open painting . . . to that extent I thought, and I still believe, that my work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society."

July 4. Barnett Newman, age sixty-five, dies in New York of a heart attack.

Philadelphia Museum of Art