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Vir heroicus sublimis

Barnett Newman

Vir heroicus sublimis

Barnett Newman
  • Date: 1950 - 1951
  • Style: Color Field Painting
  • Genre: abstract
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Dimensions: 242.2 x 541.7 cm

Translated as "Man, heroic and sublime," Vir heroicus sublimis was, at 95" by 213", Newman's largest painting at the time it was completed, although he would go on to create even more expansive works. He intended his audiences to view this and other large paintings from a close vantage point, allowing the colors and zips to fully surround them. In this piece, which is more complex than it initially appears, Newman's zips are variously solid or wavering, creating a perfect square in the center and asymmetrical spaces on the perimeter. Mel Bochner, an artist associated with Conceptualism, remembered encountering it at MOMA in the late 1960s and realising that its scale and color created a new kind of contact between art and the viewer. "A woman standing there [looking at it].. was covered with red," he recalled. "I realised it was the light shining on the painting reflecting back, filling the space between the viewer and the artwork that created the space, the place. And that that reflection of the self of the painting, the painting as the subject reflected on the viewer, was a wholly new category of experience."

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