Barnett Newman

Gallery Three

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 and stops.

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.

click image to enlarge
Onement I
Oil on canvas and oil on masking tape on canvas
27 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (69.2 x 41.2 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Annalee Newman, 1992.
Photograph © 2002 The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Onement I
Philadelphia Museum of Art