exhibition

Barnett Newman
24 Apr - 20 Jul 2014

From April 24, the renowned work Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III will be on view again along with other works by American artist Barnett Newman. 

In 1986, allegedly distressed by the work’s abstract nature, a confused man slashed with a box cutter Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, installed in its gallery of honor at the Stedelijk Museum. It was not the first time a Newman work was vandalized. In 1982, for similar reasons, a student attacked Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV in the national gallery of Berlin. Nine years later, the man who had damaged Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III returned to inflict five long knife cuts on Newman’s Cathedra. Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III goes on view for the first time in the reopened Stedelijk on April 24.

The exhibition shows a number of works from our own collection, including the wall-size paintings Cathedra (1951), The Gate (1954), Right Here (1954), and Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III (1967-1968). Newman’s subtle series of 12 etchings, Notes, will join the presentation. 

Vitrines in the Schiphol Lounge (entrance area) present newspaper and magazine clippings providing a glimpse into the turbulent history of Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III and Cathedra

Background Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue and Cathedra

After Who’s Afraid of Red Yello and Blue was damaged, the artist widow recommended that Daniel Goldreyer, who had restored Newman paintings before, including this piece, be hired to restore the painting.

When the restored work was re-hung in the Stedelijk in 2001, it sparked off a huge commotion. Some critics pointed to the decreased transparency of the red plane, accusing Goldreyer of using a paint roller. Other art damage experts supported Daniel Goldreyer concluding that the restoration was performed in a professional and satisfactory manner.

Cathedra was restored by the Stedelijk Museum’s own conservators. In 2001, the Stedelijk devoted a symposium and publication to this supremely complex and time-consuming process. Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III goes on view for the first time in the reopened Stedelijk.

About Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman (1905-1970) is one of the most celebrated artists of Color Field Painting, a movement that was part of American Abstract Expressionism.

Barnett Newman, the son of Polish immigrants, was born in New York. At first, Newman painted in a surrealist style, but began painting fields of monochrome color in the 1940s. The discovery of the zip, a vertical line dissecting the color plane, signalled the birth of his unique style. Like other colorfield painters, including Mark Rothko, Newman searched for a metaphysical art, partly in response to the atrocities of World War II.

Some of the titles of his paintings relate to the Bible or Jewish mysticism, as well as Greek mythology. In all cases, Newman reflects on man’s relationship with the divine. He encouraged visitors to stand close to the surface of the painting so as to undergo an overwhelming physical and emotional experience that gave them a sense of themselves and their place in the universe.