Barnett Newman, Artist
Early 1963 after Novak’s first cancer surgery, while recovering in the
Fifth Flower Hospital on 5th Ave., Manhattan, Novak saw in a magazine an
article about Barnett Newman. Novak asked for a phone and rang Barnett to
talk, ending by setting up an appointment to meet. It was so obvious to
Novak then, by looking at the magazine photographs of Barnett’s
paintings, as well as by what Barnett was quoted to have said in the
article, that the two should meet. Barnett was older than Novak’s father,
he could have been his grandfather, yet in his energy of art pursuit and
thinking, Novak felt a kinship with him of like mind.
Barnett was one of the earliest artists that Novak met in New York, and ever since remains most admired and Novak feels most fortunate to have known him. They met a number of times and recognized and acknowledged each others’ turf of creativity, age and experience notwithstanding, as their meetings always were about the heart of what mattered to both of them, respectfully understanding each other’s essence. It felt as though they had always known each other, in spite of their very different lives and art exposure , openly exchanging insights and observations of the art world, and their parts in it as though it was all outside their own lives.
By the time the two met, Barnett’s art achievement was much known and recognized among artists, yet not one show of his paintings happened within the seven years of Novak’s nine one-man-shows in New York City. Novak was an unknown and relatively remained so to date, while Barnett’s career took off like a rocket once Pace Gallery acquired his entire estate upon his death.
In 1968 Novak managed to persuade the Poindexter Gallery’s owner and director to allow him for his scheduled one-man-show, to create an art made for the two specific rooms of the gallery. No such art show was ever seen before in New York, whereby a totality of a given location, in consideration to it’s architectural elements, was utilized and became part of the art piece. The term “environment art” was used frequently in those days, referring to works of art that happened to rise from the floor and climb up a wall. In those days at the end of the art season, a few of the top influential individuals in the art world would get together for a discussion of that year’s most worthy events. Ivan Karp, the art dealer, made the following statement : “Gyora Novak’s show at the Poindexter Gallery was by far the most superior art statement , achieving a true totality of it’s environment.”
The day of “Spring Red” show opening, Barnett was the first to come , walking the rooms in contemplative silence for the longest time. His words of appreciation, of congratulations, and of friendship before parting were heavily emphasized by his true concern for Novak, expressed by words of caution. “Never you mind the Mujiks” (old Russian boorish peasantry), said Barnett, expressing in true care and prediction, the potential hurtful comments by ignorant art critics.
Those days the New York art page or two were routinely occupied by week’s end in a somewhat rigidly formulated manner. One or two articles of museum shows or otherwise “important” art were given more spacious writing, while a chosen ten to fifteen new gallery shows out of many more possible, were given about three inches of space. The rest of all New York art show openings were listed minimally by dates, address, and hours of visitation only.
“Spring Red”, Novak’s art show, gained after it’s opening, the unique distinction of being reported by two out of the three styles in the New York Times art section. Three inches of space were used to insert the gallery name and address at the top, dates and visitation hours at the bottom, then the rest of the blank space was used for two words in regular typeface— “Ho- Hum”, written by the spiteful art critic named Glunk.
An early phone call to express his disgust came from Barnett Newman: “I told you to never mind the Mujiks , I knew it was coming, I knew it!”
As for Novak’s response, he clipped Ms. Glunk’s creation to paste it in the gallery’s guest book, noting below it: “at the art critic Glunk’s suggested naming of the show, Ho for the smaller room, and Hum for the bigger room........so noted”.
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