The End of Fear

The American artist Barnett Newman is one of the main representatives of Abstract Expressionism. In 1969, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam acquired one of his famous zip paintings. Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III is a large-scale, red monochrome with two thin vertical bands, one yellow one blue. In 1986, a visitor to the museum slashed the canvas with a carpet knife. The following dilettante restoration resulted in a lawsuit that should prove to be very costly for the museum.

Dutch filmmaker Barbara Visser forensically investigates the double slaying and commissions a young artist, Renske van Enckevort, to reconstruct the painting and re-vitalize the original surface that had been destroyed beyond recognition. Thanks to the excellent dramaturgy through which Visser joins interviews, documents, film and audio material with the artist’s working process, her film turns into a suspenseful thriller. By collecting and arranging the facts, she creates a report on a reality that is far more complex than the sum of its relevant pieces of evidence. The question of the motive for murder entails another question: What is the significance and value of Newman’s abstract piece?

The key for that belongs to Renske van Enckevort who, throughout her months-long solitary work, tries to find the essence of the painting. This essence – one may have guessed – can perhaps be found but hardly can it be expressed verbally; unless in Barnett Newman’s own words: “Aesthetics is to the artist what ornithology must be to the birds”.

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Barbara Visser

Barbara Visser (1966, the Netherlands) studied Photography and Audiovisual Arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, the Cooper Union in New York and the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht and is an awarded artist. She has also worked as artistic director of IDFA. Her work focuses on cultural and historical narratives and how these become manifest through art, design, media and science. By challenging conventions in storytelling and image
making, and questioning our memory- and belief systems, Visser aims to provoke a new perception of what a normality has rendered invisible.