Arts & Culture

Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art announces landmark gift

4 min read

The Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art (CTSMA), a leading research center of the Harvard University Art Museums, has announced a major gift of Barnett Newman’s studio materials and related ephemera through the generosity of The Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation. These materials, most of which have never been seen outside of Newman’s studio, include painting tools and supplies, damaged and unfinished paintings and multiples, drawings, sketches, notes, and models, as well as paint trials and canvas fragments. The gift complements CTSMA’s existing archive of correspondence and conservation treatment reports related to Newman, as well as works of art donated to Harvard by his wife, Annalee Newman. Together, these remarkable gifts create an unrivaled resource for scholarship on Newman’s materials and techniques and establish the center as the premier resource for technical scholarship on Newman’s work.

The collection of tools (brushes, rollers, spray atomizer), materials (paints, inks, glues) and other ephemera included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné offers students, scholars, and the public rare insight into Newman’s work and creative process. Among the ephemera are unpublished sketches, discarded paint trials and Plexiglas multiples, and cardboard models of his best-known sculpture, “Broken Obelisk” (1963). Along with Newman’s paint-splattered studio hat and shoes, painting table, and ladder, these items provide a glimpse into the artist’s private studio practice.

The CTSMA, one of four research centers of the Harvard University Art Museums, investigates the materials and issues associated with the making and conservation of modern works of art and serves as a resource for conservators, scholars, and students by collecting, preserving, and presenting relevant materials and research. CTSMA collects and makes available for research artists’ materials, artists’ interviews, documents related to relevant conservation assessments and treatments, and ephemera associated with the creative process. The center facilitates the dissemination of such information through teaching, lecturing, and publication.

This gift advances the Art Museums’ long-term interest in technical studies and represents the first modern component to its material collections, which include the Forbes Collection of Pigments, the Gettens Archive of Aged Pigments, and the Gluck Archives of British Artists’ Materials. As with these collections, Newman’s material will be used for teaching by CTSMA, the Straus Center for Conservation, and the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University. Accordingly, the Newman studio materials and related ephemera will be cataloged and eventually made publicly accessible.

Born in New York City, Barnett Newman (1905–1970) was a leading member of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He studied with Adolph Gottlieb at the Art Students League in Manhattan and attended City College of New York. In 1946, Newman joined the Betty Parsons Gallery and in 1948, he created “Onement 1,” often cited as a seminal work in his oeuvre. Newman continued to create abstract paintings defined by single vertical bands, which he called “zips,” for the next two decades. After suffering a heart attack in 1957, Newman painted steadily through the 1960s and achieved critical recognition by representing the United States at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1965 and by exhibiting his “Stations of the Cross” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1966. Newman died of a heart attack on July 4, 1970. Now considered to be one of the most influential painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement in American art, Newman defined a crucial moment in the artistic and intellectual development of the 20th century. The Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation is a charitable trust established in 2000 under the will of Annalee Newman.

“We are grateful to The Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation for the gift of this remarkable archive,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “These materials will play an important and continuing role in our teaching and research initiatives on modern art. Barnett Newman’s exacting technique and complex methods produced some of the most influential paintings of the post-war period in American art, and we eagerly await the insights of scholars as they make use of this rich resource.”