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Beyond Belief
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Hidden and Revealed: Forcing our attention to the subtleties right in front of our eyes.
Untitled
Barnett Newman, at the end of his life, created his last untitled painting. It was 1970, and Newman’s work was just beginning to be assessed in terms of Jewish influences, such as in his important “zip” paintings, which evoke the slash of divine light that, according to Jewish mystical tradition, generated the universe.

No one knows why Newman, a pioneer of abstract expressionism and color field painting, chose the color blue for his last canvas. But one wonders if there might be a connection to a mysterious color mentioned in the Bible: tekhelet, which adorned the fringes of the ancient priestly robe and Jewish ritual prayer garment (tallit).

What purity of meaning did Newman glimpse as he made his last painting? Perhaps that God’s name, like the secret of creativity and the mystery of tekhelet, is—and will always be—Untitled.
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Untitled 1, 1970, 1970. Acrylic on canvas. 77 1/2 in. x 60 in. Collection SFMOMA, fractional gift and bequest of Phyllis Wattis. © 2013 The Barnett Newman Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Jay DeFeo
Jay DeFeo
The Verónica, 1957. Oil on canvas. 132 in. x 42 3/8 in. Collection SFMOMA, gift of Irving Blum. © 2013 The Jay DeFeo Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Ben Blackwell.
Behind the Cape
In The Verónica, Jay DeFeo references a bullfighting maneuver involving a pass with a cape. DeFeo may or may not have known that the move was named for the gesture of Saint Veronica giving Jesus her veil to wipe his brow, described in Christian apocrypha. When Jesus returned the veil, his face was miraculously imprinted on the cloth.

What we see, in life and in art, often depends on what we believe.
What do you see in this painting?

Choose as many words as you like.

cape
veil
dance
earth
hair
angel
sweat
motion
violence
calm
saint
dirt
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Slow Unfolding
Many viewers are puzzled when exploring the canvases of minimalist or abstract painters like Agnes Martin, whose work may seem to hide more than it reveals.

Yvonne Rand, a Zen Buddhist priest and meditation teacher in Northern California, wrote this reflection on seeing a Martin painting in a private residence; Rand was by herself, undisturbed:

The risk in looking at work with apparently repetitious elements is tending to a quick reaction, to a generalization, even before one is fully present with the work. Agnes Martin challenges our habitual ways of experiencing the world, be they in ordinary daily experiences, with one’s breath, or in looking at a work of art.

Our frantic, noisy, alienated culture challenges and erodes the capacity for stillness and quiet. Agnes Martin’s paintings require the viewer to be still, to be present, to allow the mind to soften if any shifts into expanded and heightened consciousness are to occur.

Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Falling Blue, 1963. Oil and graphite on canvas. 71 7/8 in. x 72 in. Collection SFMOMA, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Moses Lasky. © Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Ben Blackwell.