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On arriving at Wellesley College in 1958, Barbara's intentions were to study English literature. However after a tour of Europe and dabbling in art, she decided to study art history. While concentrating on the histories of Renaissance painting and modern art, Barbara also studied aesthetics and art history, and spent the summer of 1961 at an art school, practising painting and sculpture.

It was probably this last experience that convinced me to do advanced study in Art History, specializing in the Modern period in preparation for teaching. Columbia University attracted me because of its large and active department with excellent scholars not only in the Modern field but also in fields not offered in my undergraduate years, particularly Primitive and Baroque art; attractive too was its location in New York City: home of great libraries and museums and a mecca for contemporary artists.

BR's CV. E/T Teaching Poss. USA 63-68
Barbara Reise's Career Account
Barbara Reise's Career Account

© Tate Archive 2003

Jackson Pollock and Indian Sandpainting: The Iconology of Action
Barbara Reise, Jackson Pollock
and Indian Sandpainting: The Iconology of Action

© Tate Archive 2003
Barbara began studying at Columbia University in the City of New York in August 1966, in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. Her MA thesis 'Primitivism' in the Writings of Barnett B. Newman: A Study in the Ideological Background of Abstract Expressionism was to exert a huge influence on both her life and career. Importantly for Barbara, it initiated a long and close relationship with the artist Barnett Newman and his wife Annalee, and introduced her to their friends on both sides of the Atlantic, such as E.J. Power.

During the 1940s there was growing interest in the United States in the 'primitive' art of pre-Columbian South and Central American Indians. Comprehensive and well-attended shows were held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, beginning with Twenty Centuries of Modern Art in 1940 and Indian Art of the United States in 1941; and later the Art of the South Seas in 1946. The wealth of material on exhibition and in the collections of the Natural History Museum in New York, provided artists with visual information divorced from the cultural and artistic evolution which still dominated Europe. This brief article by Reise discussing Jackson Pollock, concisely outlines the influence of the ancient on Pollock and other twentieth-century artists.

His [Barnett Newman] art is all statement, all content; and fullness of content can be attained only through an execution that calls the least possible attention to itself... Newman is not concerned to demonstrate how well he can draw, shade or tint; he knows (and so do several of us) how well he can. The truth of art lies for him, as for any genuinely ambitious artist, somewhere beyond what he knows he can do.

Clement Greenberg, Foreward to Barnett Newman First Retrospective Exhibition,
May 4th - May 24th, 1958

Barnett Newman's first solo exhibition was held at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950. As Newman stated in an interview with critic Neil Levine (The New York School Question, Art News, September 1965) the only critics writing about the American avant-garde artists during the 1940s and 1950s were Clement Greenberg and Thomas B. Hess.
Barbara Reise's notes following an interview with Barnett Newman
Barbara Reise's notes following an interview with Barnett Newman 21 January 1964

© Tate Archive 2003
Barbara Reise's MA thesis on Barnett Newman
Barbara Reise's MA thesis
on Barnett Newman

© Tate Archive 2003

Even at the time of Barbara's first letter to Newman, nothing concrete about the artist had been executed other than the articles he had produced himself. This was still the case by the 1960s when his reputation as one of the greats had been cemented.

Barbara was often approached by people wishing to see her thesis to help with their own studies on Newman, but she was often reluctant to relinquish her hard work. Her insistence that students should always pursue first-hand material was maintained throughout her teaching career.