Where We Are

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Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from Where We Are.

Orange color field

Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Day One, 1951-52. Oil on canvas, 132 1/16 × 50 1/8in. (335.4 × 127.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art 67.18 © 2017 Barnett Newman Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

Narrator: This painting from 1951-52 is by Barnett Newman. Newman believed strongly in the power of abstraction to communicate the most dramatic and elemental aspects of human existence. Art historian and author Irving Sandler. 

Irving Sandler: One of the ideas that Barnett Newman worked with was to begin with color rather than with drawing and with modeling and this picture, Day One is essentially a color field of a single color. The stripes, which neither sit in front of nor behind the color field, therefore they cannot be considered forms, Barnett Newman referred to them as zips and their function was to intensify, to animate, the orange field and to give it scale. And, of course, size contributes to the intensity, although Newman wanted these pictures shown in small rooms so the color would literally inundate, you'd be transported, actually in this field of orange. 

Now what does this picture signify? What does it mean? The content of the work, the meaning of this work as Newman saw it, was a striving for the sublime. Now sublime is one of those real wishy washy words. I mean it could more or less mean anything, but in—we've all experienced it. If you think about certain experiences in nature that you've had, say, before Niagara Falls or the Rocky Mountains or perhaps experiencing or looking at pictures of an atomic blast or a cyclone or a great storm. 

It's interesting that this painting should be titled Day One, as if we're at the beginning of a new world. Or at least a new picture.