Conceived in 1969, Barnett Newman’s large steel sculpture Zim Zum II was not realized at full scale until after his death and was not exhibited publicly until 1992. The work conflates the artist’s interest in Judaism, especially the Cabala and the Zohar and synagogue design, with the formal issues that he explored throughout his career in painting and sculpture.

In the Cabalistic tradition, Tzim Tzum is a term that refers to God’s self-contraction to make room for the expansion of creation.

Contraction as contradiction, dialectic as expansion

Zim Zum II consists of two elements, each made with six 12-x-4-foot Cor-Ten steel plates 3/4 of an inch thick. The configuration of these component pieces is similar to that of the synagogue windows Newman designed in another project.... The sculpture’s two sections are positioned parallel to each other, but aligned so that each inward-directed angle in one element is set opposite an outward-directed angle in the other. The passage between the two is a uniform zigzag....

The seams are of Cor-Ten rod, the same material as the plates. The vertical bead is intentionally irregular, and it is left in a rough, unfinished state; the circular motion of the welding process is manifest, and the weld’s cragginess reveals the flowing quality of molten metal.

Before its first showing in 1992, Zim Zum II weathered outside for seven years. The steel surface was sandblasted before the sculpture was put outdoors. The rust forms patterns of streaks and waves and clusters, and infinite shadings of red and grey. [see left]

The sculpture is more inviting than imposing. There is a sense of quiet within the two walls, a sense of an epic journey in walking about the sculpture’s exterior.

---adapted from Erik Saxon, “Steel Cosmogony,”
Art in America, July 1992, pp. 98-101.
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