Moore, Hannah

Project title: Revisiting the Anarchist Politics of Barnett Newman’s ‘Zip’ Paintings

Department: Art History and Visual Studies

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Allan Antliff

"The objective of my research project is to explore American abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman’s (1905-1970) ‘zip’ paintings in relation to his famous declaration in 1970 that “if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and authoritarianism.” (“Interview with Emile de Antonio,” reprinted in Barnett Newman, Selected Writings and Interviews, 1990: 307-8) I am interested in Newman’s Judeo-anarchist ontology and its development in the context of post-World War Two America during the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I will research the formulation of his ontology in part by drawing on the writings of the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) and the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) as well as secondary literature on Barnett Newman, the abstract expressionist movement, and the history and philosophy of anarchism. My goal is to investigate how Newman combined the heterodox Judaic religiosity of Spinoza with Kropotkin’s conception of social transformation to formulate his belief that his abstract expressionist paintings could convey a political message. Understanding Newman’s Judaic-anarchist ontology will provide a basis for revisiting Colin Gardner’s conception of Newman’s work in his influential article, "Barnett Newman's Zip as Figure" (Deleuze Studies, 6:1 2012: 42-54).  I will show that, while Gardner recognizes the relevance of Spinoza for understanding Newman’s outlook, he offers an incomplete analysis of Newman’s Zip paintings because he neglects their ontological foundations in the politics of anarchism."