Berlin Art@Site Barnett Newman Broken Obelisk

Barnett Newman


Broken Obelisk

Potsdamer Strasse 50 (temporär)
we will change everything
With an obelisk one saw once that the king is supported by the gods. But what says an obelisk now we don’t believe in gods no more? Even more so: we often also doubt the king. What’s left; do we believe in ourself?
The obelisk is broken. The ragged edge is sharp. This hurts. What is it, that hurts? There is the loss of the gods and the king. And also a pain because there is nothing in return.
The gods gave us the prospect of overcoming all the difficulties. This would happen when we satisfied the gods by proving our loyalty. We showed this by a wonderful culture with architecture, music, sculpture, painting, ritual and even more. This is what we call the church. At the same time we didn’t need a church, we also needed a beautiful art no longer.
This happened almost to the same extend and in the same way to the king. As the king left in many countries, the court culture diminished in a lot of places. That too, is a pity.
What come in this place? Ever since the church and the king left, concepts came like individual, emancipation, uniqueness, self-realisation. Yes, we believe in our own abilities more and more. But we're not quite there yet. Our brokenness and loneliness keep coming back.
Barnett Newman placed an obelisk on a pyramid and thereby shows that the human being is capable of a lot. That's right: I, you and we are capable of more than we initially think. But still, this is thought from the pre-Anthropocene era.
I don’t believe anymore that we can do it alone. We become conscious that humanity has contributed to the acidification of the oceans, the sea-level rise, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of animal species.
It's about time we change. The image of an obelisk can be helpful. But then I would choose for another material: natural material. Humans came up with Cor-Ten steel. Instead I would choose for a living material, such as a tree.
But what do we do with the pyramid? My suggestion is to invite people to join together and to form the pyramid together. And than we continue to invite people to carry our planet so that the pyramid is also shaped by the generations to come.
I'm curious how we change in the coming periods and what artworks will come.
By Theo,

we gaan alles veranderen
Ooit zag men aan de obelisk dat de koning hulp kreeg van de goden. Maar wat zegt een obelisk nu wij niet meer in goden geloven? Sterker nog: vaak twijfelen wij ook aan een koning. Wat blijft er dan over; geloven wij in ons eigen kunnen? De obelisk is gebroken. De rafelrand is scherp. Dit doet pijn. Wat is deze pijn? Er is verlies van de goden en de koning. Er is ook pijn doordat er niets hiervoor in de plaats gekomen is.
De goden gaven ons het perspectief dat alle moeilijkheden overwonnen zouden worden. Dit zou gebeuren als wij de goden tevreden stelden door onze loyaliteit te tonen. En dit toonden wij door een wonderschone cultuur met architectuur, muziek, beeldhouwkunst, schilderkunst, rituelen en nog veel meer. Dit noemen wij de kerk. Tegelijk met de kerk is ook veel wonderschone kunst overbodig geworden.
In mindere mate is ongeveer hetzelfde waar voor de koning. Tegelijk met het verdwijnen van de koning in veel landen, is ook de hofcultuur overbodig geworden op veel plaatsen. En ook dat is jammer.
Wat is hiervoor in de plaats gekomen? Sinds de kerk en de koning verdwenen, kwamen er begrippen als individu, emancipatie, eigenheid, zelfontplooiing. Jah, wij geloven steeds meer in ons eigen kunnen. Maar we zijn er nog niet. Onze gebrokenheid en eenzaamheid blijven terugkomen.
Barnett Newman plaatst de obelisk op een piramide en toont hiermee aan dat de mens tot véél in staat is. Dat klopt: ik, jij en wij kunnen veel meer dan wij vaak in eerste instantie denken. Maar dan nog; dit vind ik een gedachte uit het pre-Antropoceen tijdperk.
Ik geloof niet meer dat wij het alleen kunnen. Wij komen tot het bewustzijn dat de mensheid meegewerkt heeft aan de verzuring van de zeeën, de stijging van de zeespiegel, de smelting van gletsjers, het uitsterven van diersoorten.
Het wordt tijd dat wij veranderen. Het beeld van de obelisk kan hierbij behulpzaam zijn. Maar dan zou ik voor een ander materiaal kiezen: een natuurlijk materiaal. Cor-Ten staal is door mensen bedacht. Ik zou hiervoor in de plaats een levend materiaal kiezen, zoals een boom.
Maar wat doen wij met de piramide? Mijn voorstel is om hiervoor mensen uit te nodigen die tezamen de piramide vormen. En dat wij continu mensen uitnodigen om onze planeet te dragen zodat de piramide ook gevormd wordt door de toekomstige generaties.
Ik ben benieuwd hoe wij veranderen in de komende tijdperken en welke kunstwerken er komen.
Door Theo,
An Unburdened Art
Barnett Newman said: 'I believe that here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it. … We are freeing ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been devices of Western European painting.'
Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, made of Cor-Ten steel, stands more than 25 feet tall and weighs 6,000 pounds. An inverted obelisk—a four-sided tapering monument from Ancient Egypt—balances precariously atop a pyramid, another Egyptian form. The sculpture was not designed for a particular site, and it commemorates no specific person or moment in history. Some interpret Broken Obelisk as a universal monument to all humanity. However, the severed, upended form could also suggest that there is nothing to celebrate—perhaps an allusion to the social unrest of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests occurring in the United States in the 1960s.
Broken Obelisk is a sculpture designed by Barnett Newman between 1963 and 1967. Fabricated from three tons of Cor-Ten steel, which acquires a rust-colored patina, it is the largest and best known of his six sculptures.
Robert Hughes: "Newman's pursuit of the sublime lay less in nature than in culture. This enabled him to pick ancient, man-made forms and return them to pristine significance without a trace of piracy. One index of that ability was his sculpture. Broken Obelisk, perhaps the best American sculpture of its time, is Newman's meditation on ancient Egypt: a steel pyramid, from whose apex an inverted obelisk rises like a beam of light. Here, Newman bypassed the Western associations of pyramids and broken columns with death, and produced a life-affirming image of transcendence. That unruffled self-sufficiency, beyond style, gave Newman's work its mysterious didactic value. It is not 'expressive'; the silence at the core bespeaks a man for whom art was a philosophical activity, a way of knowledge."
Barnett Newman's inverted obelisk was dedicated to Martin Luther King after his death. The symbolism was too much for the city of Houston.
Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk balances enigmatically above a long, shallow reflecting pool outside the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Lush swamp-like foliage and obsessively trimmed lawns surround it in the humid heat. You might be in ancient Egypt, the scene is so silent and reverential. The obelisk is an Egyptian form, and Newman makes a double reference to Egyptian architecture: his steel obelisk, its shaft rudely snapped, stands upside down, its pointed zenith impossibly resting on the apex of a pyramid. Two tiny points, two zeros, touch, and immense masses are suspended on a geometrical absolute so refined it does not exist. This is a tremendous work of art, a masterpiece: but what does it have to do with the political theme of this series on American art?
In May 1969 the Texas art collectors Dominique and John de Menil made a generous offer to the city of Houston. They wanted to provide the money for the city to purchase Newman's sculpture. Their vision was for it to stand outside Houston's City Hall and for it to be dedicated to Martin Luther King. Famous up to then primarily as a painter, Barnett Newman had created Broken Obelisk in 1967 and exhibited it to sensational acclaim and controversy in New York; then, in 1968, King was assassinated. The Menils' desire to make Broken Obelisk a monument to Martin Luther King made complete sense. If the obelisk is an ancient Egyptian invention, it is also American: one of the most awe-inspiring obelisks in the world is the stupendously vast Washington Monument in Washington DC. King delivered his most famous speech in Washington in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to civil rights marchers assembled in the park below, with the white needle of the Washington obelisk right ahead of him as he stated "I have a dream ..."
A broken obelisk was a potent emotional way to see America after King's death: the promise denied, the hope shattered, the republic's very rationality snapped in two. For the Menils to see this in Newman's work was visionary, and it was true as well to Newman who always claimed his abstract art was about politics, about meaning. Houston wasn't having it. The city rejected the proposal - not out of hostility to modern art, but because of its dedication to King. So it stands instead in the grounds of the Menil collection, at a site chosen by the artist himself. A monument to all that is broken.
Text: Jonathan Jones.