Receiving Newman. Formalism, Minimalism, and their Philosophical Preconditions

Espen Dahl


Despite the divide between American formalism and theoreticians of minimalism, Barnett Newman’s art received great acclaim from both schools of thought. Attempting to unearth the philosophical preconditions of this strange constellation, this article argues that the closeness between minimalism and formalism is due to their mutual reliance upon phenomenology and ordinary language philosophy. However, their proximity also conveys their distance, since they imply different interpretations and applications of the philosophical schools in question. Such theoretical differences shed light on Newman’s paintings: both minimalism and formalism are right in their accounts – yet not exclusively so. What arguably makes up the distinctive fascination of Newman’s paintings is their incessant oscillation between empty physicality and powerful meaning.


Barnett Newman, formalism, minimalism, phenomenology, ordinary language philosophy

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ISSN: 2000-9607

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