bucharest-buchawork | who's afraid of red yellow and blue part 2 who's afraid part2

Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?
Kuj eije fricke de roschu, galben si albastru?

That’s the title of a painting by Barnett Newman. The last of a series of four concentrating on the basic colors red, yellow and blue. It consists of three color fields. The red and the yellow one are of the same size, they are divided by a so called blue ‘zip’, which Newman frequently used in his paintings to divide color spaces and enforce their effect. The painting is very large: nearly 3m by 6m.

Gesundes Volksempfinden
Ânzeleptschunia populare

In 1982 the National Gallery in Berlin planned to buy ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? IV’ for 2,7 million DM. At the time this was an extremely high sum. The highest ever to have been spent on contemporary art. The reaction of the media was prompt. The most popular German tabloid ‘Bild’ launched a campaign and titled: Three fields of color for 2,7 mio? Reducing the matter to mere cost-efficiency Bild asked, if it’s OK to spend nearly three mio DM on a painting that shows virtually nothing and has no content?

Building bridges
Pod peste oczean

The late director of the Nationalgalerie Dieter Honisch urgently wanted ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’ to round up his collection.

In order to persuade politicians to make funds available he argued that the purchase of this painting would help to underline the strong German-American ties on a political level and that it would be a basis for a European dialogue with America. This final masterpiece of abstract expressionism would also represent the new and pragmatic American standpoint in the arts. At the same time he saw it as the continuation of an art movement that began with German expressionism at the beginning of the 20th century.

We are all poets – part one
Tots suntem poetz’ - partia ântéj

At the height of the media campaign against ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?’ a painter from the Berlin suburb of Spandau offered the National Gallery an identical painting for only 1,5 mio DM. In order to show that no artistic talent was needed she stated to have needed only three minutes to complete a painting which looked exactly as Barnett Newman’s ‘and was just as profound’.

Maginot-Line failed again
Linia Maginot dinou falimentary

When ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’ was finally bought by the National Gallery it was exposed at a prominent place in the Beckmann hall. Yet in contradiction to the painter’s requirements, who wanted the onlookers to get very close to his large paintings, to allow themselves to be immersed into them, to be drawn into the vastness of the color – the painting was fenced off by a special, transparent fiberglass barrier at a height of approximately 30cm off the ground.

The Sublime

Ingeborg Becker then working at the National Gallery remembers that at the end of a talk about ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?’ people just wouldn’t leave. An embarrassing moment ensued while she desperately asked herself what else she might be able to tell. To her surprise people suddenly opened up and started talking about their most personal experiences. In the early 80s esoteric feelings were at their height and people seemed - maybe even unconsciously - to respond to Barnett Newman’s call 'The Sublime Is Now'. This was the title of an essay in which Newman declared his faith that 'here in America, some of us, free from the weight of European culture . . . are asserting man's desire for the exalted, for a . . . relationship to the absolute emotions.' Abstract painting was not to be an exercise in design. It was to provide a vision of ultimate things.

Danger ahead
Drum perikolos

Experiencing a long stretched manic phase a 28 year-old student of veterinary medicine visited the National Galleryin February 1982. He was especially impressed by the huge and prominently exposed ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’. Asking a by-standing guard, what was so special about it he got for an answer: “As it cost nearly 3 mio DM this has to be real art.”

Iconoclasm – part one
Ikonoklasm – partia ântéj

Two months later the same young man entered the National Gallery in Berlin through a side entrance. The main entrance of the museum building was closed due to a new exhibition set up. The student wore a workmen’s helmet and a black leather suitcase and didn’t rise any attention. The guards mistook him as one of the transportation workers as he is moving with the outmost self-confidence and they let him pass. He finds all doors unlocked, because the cleaning women have just left. As soon as he stands in the unlit Beckmann hall in front of ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’ he punches the red color and is stunned to realized that the painting swings back like a punching ball. It seemed to reject him. He then grasps one of the fiber glass barriers and hits hard into the blue zip but without perforating it. Then he finishes the painting off by kicking the yellow color with his foot. At last he spits in the middle of the painting.

During the whole process the attacker is howling at full volume but wasn’t heard by anybody.

We are all poets - part two
Tots suntem poetz’ – partia adoa

Immediately after the attack the student unpacked several prepared items out of his suitcase. In front of the painting’s red section he placed a voluminous red book listing all 70.000 medications officially available in Germany. Next to it in front of the blue zip he laid the newest edition of the Spiegel magazine with a predominately blue cover featuring Mrs. Thatcher as war faring knight in the Falklands. And in front of the yellow part he deposited a yellow book used in the student’s communal apartment for household book-keeping. On top of it he left a small paper note with the words: “Title: Household book. An art piece by the communal apartment …street, right hand loft. Not for sale”. A second paper note was stuck to his drooping saliva in the middle of the blue zip, saying “Title: Who still doesn’t understand, has to pay for it. – A small contribution to cleanliness – Author: …. Price: Negotiable.” He later described the notes as ‘denkzettel’ as reminders or notes to think about.

Blasphemiy of national flag
Pâgaryria drapelului

As the attacker had left his name and address on the site of his crime it didn’t take long until he was arrested and interrogated. At the police station the officers seemed to have been sympathetic towards the detainee and his deed. They felt especially encouraged by his comment: A small contribution to cleanliness.

The police reportstates strangely enough the damage of a painting showing the German national colors (black, red, gold).

Next day’s Bildzeitung quoted the attacker from the police report: “According to me the painting is a perversion of the German flag and intends to frighten the German people.”

It’s the victims own fault
Shiau câltato cu lumenárja

The defense strategy of the lawyer was based on the alleged strong suggestive power of the painting whose luminant colors produce special visual effects destabilizing an instable personality. He also referred to earlier remarks from the museum side emphasizing the “subtle but overpowering effect” of the painting and that Newman intended to “strike and overwhelm the viewer”.

He also quoted Barnett Newman himself who had once said, that “it is interesting for me to notice how difficult it is for people to take the intense heat and blaze of my color.”

As in rape-offenses the lawyer saw the fault with the victim, in this case with the painting itself that consciously and with premeditation had provoked the attack. It had asked for it.

Therefore the defendant had acted in self-defense and could not be held guilty.

Iconoclasm – part two
Ikonoklásm – partia adoa

Four years later ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III’ was attacked in Amsterdam in the Stedelijk Museum by Gerard Jan van Bladeren who later described himself to authorities as schizophrenic and psychotic. This time the attacker used a knife with a sharp blade and actually destroyed the canvass. Bladeren was described as a person who “sees himself as a warrior, a samurai in the service of the Messiah”

The mafia connection
Relacji mafiote

After this second attack on one of Newman’s paintings his widow insisted that the painting should be restored by o good friend and colleague of her late husband, the only one able to do the job properly. The outcome of this restoration drew almost as much outrage and controversy as the actual crime. Costing somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 critics claimed that subtle variations of color had been lost and that furthermore, house paints and a roller were used.


Manic-depressive disorder is a severe mental disorder involving manic episodes that are usually accompanied by episodes of depression. The manic phase of the disorder is characterized by an abnormally elevated or irritable mood, grandiosity, sleeplessness, extravagance, and a tendency toward irrational judgment.

To their environment maniacs appear often very convincing because they act extremely self-assured. They think they know the truth and they are often surprisingly eloquent and seem to anticipate other people’s reaction.

Nevertheless it’s quite surprising how easily public opinion is willing to identify with maniacs as long as they comply with their own prejudices.


Raport nr. 761 din 28 martie 1972

Agent: Gealatu
Localitatea: Berlin
Data interceptarii: 12 martie 1972
Persoane implicate: ofițer poliție RFG Müller sau Meier, alți polițiști și persoane neidentificate pe coridor sau portarul.

Subsemnat Agent Gealatu deplasândumă la Muzeul de Picturi în urma sesizării tov. agent Vioreaua am constatat următoarele. Intrînd în clădire mi-am achiziționat un bilet în valoare de 6 (șase) mărci RFG. Apoi aliniindu-mă coridorului cu intenția să mă bag la secția picturi moderniste.

Am dat de un grup de cetățeni și polițiști care gesticulau și vorbeau tare. Comandantul grupului era un Müller sau Meier care nu sînt sigur din cauza gălăgiei.

Neînțelegînd conflagrația și ca să afluu despre ce raporta tov. Vioreaua cum că a fost folosit drapelul pentru a picta modern, am trecut la a intra în încăperea de colecție. Acolo m-am sesizat că de fapt gălăgia fusese tocmai din cauza sus numitului tablou de Barney Neuman, probabil evreu, care reprezenta tricolorul într-o ordine greșită. Și anume tabloul fusese lovit impactele producîndu-se cîte unul de fiecare culoare respectivă, cu un tub care era contondent acolo.

Constatînd stricăciunea am ieșit dar milițienii plecaseră deci am întocmit prezentul raport întocmai.

Din cercetările mele ulterioare cu portarul reiese că nu este clar. Ori Nauman a luat tricolorul în batjocură și a fost atacat, ca pictură, de către un patriot spontan plecat, ori Nauman este plecat dar sincer român și persoana distrugînd a fost pasibilă de o faptă care se poate interpreta.


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