ProvenanceMr. and Mrs. Tony Smith, New Jersey, gift of the artist
Christie's, New York, May 5, 1982, Lot 15, consigned by the above
The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Collection, New York
Pace Gallery, New York
Private Collection, acquired from the above, January 1995
Sotheby's New York: Wednesday, May 16, 2018
ExhibitionBennington, Vermont, New Gallery, Bennington College, Barnett Newman: First Retrospective Exhibition, May 1958
New York, French and Company, Inc., Barnett Newman: A Selection, 1946-1952, ...More...March - April 1959
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Newman - de Kooning, October - November 1962, p. 8, no. 8, illustrated
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Musem; London, The Tate Gallery; and Paris, Centre National d'Art Contemporain, Galerie Nationales d'exposition du Grand Palais, Barnett Newman, October 1971 - December 1972, p. 58, illustrated (New York), p. 48, no. 14, illustrated (Amsterdam), p. 35, no. 14, illustrated (London), and p. 47, no. 14, illustrated (Paris)
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Negotiating Rapture: The Power of Art to Transform Lives, June - October 1996, p. 142, no. 59, illustrated in color
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Barnett Newman Paintings, October - December 2011, n.p. (text), n.p. illustrated in color
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA DNA: New York School, June - September 2012
London, Royal Academy of Arts; and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Abstract Expressionism, September 2016 - June 2017, p. 174, no. 41, illustrated in color
LiteratureLawrence Alloway, "Notes on Barnett Newman," Art International 13, Summer 1969, p. 35, no. 6
Exh. Cat., Albany, New York State Museum, New York, the State of Art: The New York School, October 1977 - January 1978, p. 35
Roelof Louw, "Newman and the Issue of Subject Matter," Studio International 187, no. 962, January 1974, p. 31
Benjamin Garrison Paskus, "The Theory, Art, and Critical Reception of Barnett Newman (Ph.D. dissertation)" University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1974, pp. 93-95, 97, 98, 100, 114, no. 94, 155
Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, p. 98, no. 58, illustrated in color (in incorrect orientation)
Madeleine Deschamps, "B. Newman entre le texte et le zip," Art Press, Paris, 1980, p. 22, no. 35
Andrew Benjamin, Ed., "Newman: The Instant," The Llyotard Reader, Oxford and Cambridge, 1989, p. 101
Armine Haase, "Marats Badewanne," Kunstforum International, 1992, p. 136, no. 119
Thomas McEvilley, The Exile's Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era, Cambridge, 1993, p. 26, 40, 41
Jonathan Fineberg, "Barnett Newman," Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1995, p. 102, no. 4.14, illustrated
Mollie McNickle, "The Mind and Art of Barnett Newman (Ph.D. dissertation)," University of Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 241
Yve-Alain Bois, "Here to There and Back," Artforum, March 2002, p. 108 (text)
Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art (and travelling), Barnett Newman, 2002, p. 52 (text), p. 53, illustrated (in installation at Bennington College, 1958), and p. 75 (text)
Yve-Alain Bois, "Newman's Laterality," in Melissa Ho, Ed., Reconsidering Barnett Newman: A Symposium at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 37, illustrated, and pp. 36, 38, 39 (text)
Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 192-193, no. 24, illustrated in color
Yve-Alain Bois, "On Two Paintings by Barnett Newman," October 108, Spring 2004, p. 28, illustrated
Barnett Newman is one of the most important Abstract Expressionist artists. Abstract Expressionism emerged from the destruction of World War II and was a loosely associated group of artists that worked through the trauma of the past and the anxiety of a new present.
Abstract Expressionism is often thought of as branching into two streams – the Action Painters like Jackson Pollock with his drip paintings and the Color Field artists like Barnett Newman who utilized planes of color. Newman developed a visual language through which he could explore the possibilities of paint to shape our physical and metaphysical landscape.
Newman was born in New York in a Polish Jewish family. He developed late as an artist, not landing on his trademark “zips” until his 40s. These pillars of color were his attempts to delve into painting afresh, as if it never existed before. Rather than segmenting the planes of color on the canvas, these color columns act as points of mergers. The difference between the fields of paint and the “zips” allows the viewer to experience Newman’s paintings conceptually and physically. His canvases balance tranquility and dynamism as he sought to create expressions that speak to an audience universally and individually.
Newman has often been cited as paving the way for the second wave of Color Field painters from Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland and even to Post-Minimalists like Richard Tuttle. As art critic Jonathan Jones notes, there is “a line of development that runs from Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman through to James Turrell’s skyspaces and appropriated geological phenomenon the Roden Crater. This tradition of American art ranges out, like a lasso, across often vast spaces, from the widescreen paintings of the abstract expressionists to Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field.”
Galaxy is a virtuosic early example of his zip paintings. The painting is a rare and important work as it is one of the first to feature two “zips” – the vertical columns of color cutting the planes of the canvas. More than his “double zips” which have two lines in close proximity to each other, Newman allowed space to breathe between the zips in this painting. This painting was done shortly after Onement I, the first realization of his “zips”. Thus, Galaxy represents an important step in Newman’s development of his visual language.
The stripes themselves are also of different width, giving the work a quiet dynamism. The viewer is forced to contemplate the painting on different levels – the individual columns, the space between the zips – one’s eyes are never able to fully consume the canvas as a whole. In fact, Newman took pains to find the right width for the zips, imperceptibly enlarging them from his original intention. A touching note for this piece, Newman gifted the painting to his friend and fellow artist Tony Smith. Smith himself was a pioneer of Minimalist sculpture. This gesture speaks to the importance that Newman placed on the work.
In the wake of WWII with the horrors of the Holocaust and atomic bombs, Newman wrote that “old standards of beauty were irrelevant: the sublime was all that was appropriate – an experience of enormity which might lift modern humanity out of its torpor.” It is not so much the size of a painting; an intimate painting can still trigger the sublime response within the viewer so that they may briefly understand the vast scale of the universe in an attempt to relate our own small lives to a greater cosmic level. It is no coincidence that Newman gave this painting the title Galaxy describing it visually and conceptually.
Galaxy encapsulates Newman’s austere canvases that are nonetheless conveyers of deep emotions and mysticism. Through intuitive selections of color, hues, and composition, Newman presents direct sensory impact. For this painting, there is no mathematical division of space but rather Newman finding the proportions that “felt” right. Additionally, the work transforms as different light falls on the canvas. In a gallery, the artificial lights heighten the different hues. In natural light, the work becomes more subtle, and the colors balance differently as certain tones become warmer and others become colder. This focus outside of subject matter and onto the properties of paint and the relationship of viewer to work would shape future Minimalist and Post-Minimalist artists.
Barnett Newman’s influence has seeped throughout art history and our visual culture. His metaphysical approach to paint led the way for future Color Field artists. In one of the clearest instances of dialogue is Frank Bowling’s painting Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman which expands Newman’s original inquiry in his own Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. That influence continues to this day with contemporary artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation (who’s afraid of red, yellow, green) that engages with Newman and with political reality. And, there is Jennie C. Jones’s quietly powerful works that expands Newman’s zips into meditations of sound and resonance.
This painting plays a crucial role in Newman’s development as an artist, showing his experimentation and exploration of a theme that would define his career. The subtly impressive piece and Newman’s works overall has shaped our understanding of art – as concept and as objects that occupy our physical and metaphysical spaces.
Barnett Newman, c. 1969
Barnett Newman, The Promise, 1949, oil on canvas, 51 ½ x 68 1/8 in., Whitney Museum of American Art
Barnett Newman, Covenant, 1949, oil on canvas, 47 ¾ x 59 5/8 in., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and Tony Smith (the original owner of this painting) at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1951.
- Barnett Newman paintings are exceedingly rare. Only 42 paintings have been to auction. Of those, only 24 are on canvas, 18 are from his most desirable mature period, and 8 are from the early years of his breakthrough zip style in 1948-9.
- Of the 118 surviving paintings from his career, only 17 are from 1949—the most prolific year of his career. The majority of his paintings remained in the artist’s possession until his death, when his widow, Annalee, gifted most to public institutions, where they are likely to remain.
- The record price for a Barnett Newman at auction was set in 2014 for a 1961 oil painting: Black Fire I, a much larger and later painting, sold for $84,165,000. Five paintings have sold for over $20 million.
- The rarity of his paintings in private hands means that there are few opportunities to acquire such an early and important Newman for under $20 million.
Top Results at Auction
Paintings in Museum Collections
- Newman considered this his breakthrough painting that changed the course of his career, one year earlier than Galaxy
- A modest size, slightly smaller than Galaxy
- Similar palette as Galaxy, with similar dark earthy crimson planes
- From his breakthrough Onement series, a precursor to Galaxy which introduced his signature “zips”
- Larger than Galaxy
- Same early period as Galaxy with similar deep crimson fields of color
- From his breakthrough Onement series, which was a precursor to Galaxy which introduced his signature zips
- From the same early period as Galaxy
- Slightly larger than Galaxy, but deeper, less complex palette
- Larger than Galaxy and deeper, less complex palette
- Same early period as Galaxy and also has two zips
- Same early period as Galaxy
- The palette is lighter with more clearly iterated brushstrokes to create a washy, atmospheric effect uncommon in his work
- Also has two zips like Galaxy but they are not as pronounced; Galaxy’s zips are stronger and more vibrant
- From the same year as Galaxy and similar dimensions and crimson planes
- Oriented horizontally, rare for his zips
- The bichrome zip and brushy, light mark are uncommon for his work