Art: Pursuit of the Sublime

One of the hidden forks in American art history was reached on Jan. 29, 1948, when a painter named Barnett Newman painted a thin, rough orange stripe down the exact center of a small dark red canvas, and left it alone. It is hardly an exaggeration that most of the symmetrical format, stripe, minimal, and otherwise post-De Kooning art produced in New York in the '60s refers, in the end, to this modest picture that Newman called Onement I. Newman's ruthless pursuit of the implications of this canvas both split his work from the...

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