ART ON CAMPUS
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Robert Murray (Canadian, b. 1936)
Tundra (for Barnett Newman), 1972
Painted Cor-ten steel
Collection of Carleton University Art Gallery
(Transfer from Government of Canada, 2006)
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, artist Robert Murray spent summers at the Artist Workshop in Emma Lake, Saskatchewan. The small town was a haven for abstract artists in the 1950s and 60s, and Murray had a series of prolific personalities as his instructors there, including painter Barnett Newman and art critic Clement Greenberg.
When Murray moved to New York in 1960, Greenberg’s theory of formalism had taken hold in the art world. The Canadian artist’s large, painted steel sculptures followed many of Greenberg’s tenants, and Murray rose to prominence in the wake of his previous instructor’s support.
Barnett Newman passed away around the time that Murray got the commission, and he decided to dedicate the sculpture to the late painter.Tundra (for Barnett Newman) (1972) is a dynamic, largely horizontal work, painted bright red. It is made from one large piece of sheet metal, which was then cut, formed and welded back together. There are two elements in the work: one is a low-lying, static and expansive. The other is a hanging diagonal piece that is cantilevered off the first.
As Murray says, “The piece seemed to evoke wide open spaces. It reminded me of my conversation with Barney about the tundra and the phenomenon of whiteout – the horizonless landscape. In the case of the sculpture the volume is real, rather than an illusion and it is experience by walking around the piece and looking at it from all directions.”
Tundra (for Barnett Newman) was moved onto the campus in 2006 from its previous site on Colonel By Drive at the National Defense Headquarters, where it had been installed since the mid-1970s.
(With content from Bruce Ward. “Sculptor happy Ottawans getting a fresh perspective on his work, Carleton offers more space to view abstract piece.” Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, September 30, 2006 and a 2006 email from the artist to Diana Nemiroff.)