Day 6 – Barnett Newman’s SculptureSaturday, March 6, 2010
The New National Gallery’s outdoor entrance (Neue Nationalgalerie) holds a sculpture by American contemporary artist Barnett Newman ‘Broken Obelisk’. This steel-made sculpture is an extremely large work measuring over 25 feet high. Lower part is a pyramid 10.5 feet high, balanced on top with an obelisk, extending another 15 feet. It resembles a broken pencil balancing on a pyramid-shaped base. The point at which the two parts meet is just over 2 feet square, extremely small surface area. They are connected by an interior steel pole that is not apparent the viewer. The work appears shiny to the eye, but the surface of the work is extremely worn and rough. The top of the work, the obelisk is broken at the top, contrasting drastically with the geometric form of the remaining work. The sculpture has a huge soaring quality, making people viewing it feel small.
I was drawn to this sculpture initially due to its dynamic appearance. Researching this piece of artwork, I found it has quite the history. This piece was created in 1963-1967, a time of great unrest in America. It is considered a politically charged sculpture due to Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. Texas art collectors made a generous offer to the city of Houston to purchase Newman’s sculpture as a dedication to King. King delivered his famous speech “I have a dream”. This work almost comments on how this speech was in a sense “unfulfilled” or “dashed.” There are now 4 models of this sculpture in all different locations around the world.
After viewing the ‘Broken Obelisk’ outside of the Neue Nationalgalerie, I was taken back with the weathered quality of the steel of the sculpture. I had previously seen photographs of this monument, but was surprised at how weathered and old the sculpture appeared standing before it. The piece is quite tall, the bottom of the sculpture covered with hard packed icy snow. There were visual water drip marks on the points where the upper and lower parts meet. It was weathered, but exceptionally impressive. The top pencil like part looked as if it was balancing on the pyramid and could fall at any point. A certain tension is captured with this, making the viewer fell unease towards the larger part being on the top of the pyramid.
It was an extremely fun sculpture to photograph; the vertical and diagonal lines combined with the rustic orange colour itself made for interesting compositional frames. Each photograph chosen is displayed above. My intension for creating engaging shots was to put emphasis on the soaring quality of the work, and to allow the viewer to notice the tension. Taking angles from below, aiming up the sculpture allows for this soaring quality to occur. Focusing on the point of intersection where the pyramid meets the balancing pencil-top allows for the uneasy and tense quality of the work to show. Using Photoshop, I was able to put bring out the rustic qualities in the steel itself. The watermarks appear quite blue against the vibrant orange exterior. It was a fairly sunny day when we visited the gallery, with not a lot of blue sky unfortunately. I was quite happy with the results regardless. The white background juxtaposes the vibrant orange/red rustic shades made for some quite dynamic photographs.