American artist and theorist Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was a major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, and credited as a major influence on Color Field painting and Minimalism. Throughout his life he worked as a teacher, writer, and critic.
Born in New York as the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Newman took drawing classes at the Art Students League during high school, which he continued while studying philosophy at the City College of New York. After graduating he worked in his father's clothing manufacturing business, as an art teacher, and was very involved in local politics.
Newman destroyed much of his early work; in his theoretical art texts, Barnett asserted that the Impressionists and early twentieth century modernist painters had solved the technical problems of the painting, and going forward painting should address concepts instead. The state of the modern world post-World War II was also a major concern for him. Newman’s 1948 painting, Onement, I, was a turning point for the artist as it was the first in which he used his “zip” motif: a vertical band of color. Heavily based in theory and spirituality, his work was meant to express individual freedom and reject totalitarian.
His first solo exhibition was at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950, but he was not critically accepted until later in life. The tide began to change with his 1959 solo show at French & Company organized by Clement Greenberg. In 1966, the Guggenheim gave Newman his first solo museum exhibition. Newman’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Detroit Institute of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Loas Angeles County Museum of Art; Seattle Art Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Tate, London; and many more.