One of many epic paintings David Diao made about Barnett Newman’s catalogue raisonné is a yearly tally of work, sorted by category, into zips. Every time I see it I think, “Other? What was the one other?”
And then rewatching Diao’s 2013 Dia talk last night, I am reminded that Other is a synagogue Newman designed, Diao said, for an architectural competition. There’s a 2014 story at Grupa O.K. about Harald Szeemann wanting to borrow the model [fabricated by Robert Murray] for a show in 1983, and Annalee refusing to lend it. She left it to the in the CCA in Montreal in 1991.
LATER TONIGHT UPDATE: EXCEPT. Newman did not make this for a competition, but for an exhibition. In mid-1963 he was working on the Cantos print series when Richard Meier, of all people, invited him to be the only non-architect in a show at the Jewish Museum, Recent American Synagogue Architecture. Newman also wrote an essay for the catalogue about synagogue architecture in the postwar context. His relationship with the Jewish Museum soured a couple of years later when he opposed what he felt the museum was wrongly implicating him with constrictive labels of Jewish Artist or Jewish Art. Mark Godfrey gets into this and other early postwar artists’ reckoning with Jewish identity and culture a bit in his 2007 book, Abstraction and the Holocaust.
Diao has so much going on in his Newman works, paintings about another painter, a subject which became a concept, and Simon does a good job pulling it together. In Jeffrey Weiss’ essay for a forthcoming catalogue of the works, he quotes Diao explaining that “his interest in Newman dates to a period associated with a crisis of faith in the viability of abstract painting.”
This language of faith and crisis and the mysteries of abstraction has echoes in the origins of one of my favorite of Diao’s Newman paintings from 2014, which was here called BN: Cut Up Painting. It’s the blue and white work above.
When I wrote about Diao’s exhibition of the work in Brussels in 2016 [it was called Barnett Newman: The Cut Up Painting], I tried to pull together the accounts of its creation: Barney had asked his wife Annalee to cut up a painting that was finished, but, in his eyes, unresolved. She only did it after his sudden death, then anguished by a dream about the violent act, had it reassembled by a conservator. Barnett and/or Annalee’s work has been the subject of fascinating work by conservators, art historians—and Diao, but it has never been exhibited. Diao’s version is as close as we can get.
It really does seem like abstraction has been causing a lot of people a lot of grief over the years.
Jasper Johns has one of Barnett Newman’s first lithographs, Untitled, 1961, which Newman made at the urging of Cleve Gray, his artist friend who taught at Pratt.
Johns included the Newman print as an element in several of his trompe l’oeil-style paintings in the 1980s. The first, I think—I will doublecheck the catalogue raisonné later; right now I’m just trying to procrastinate something else—was Racing Thoughts, in 1983. That painting is now at the Whitney.