Miskatonic University Press

Voice of Fire

art listening.to.art

This was on the front page of the Toronto Star on Thursday 08 March 1990 (price: 35¢). “$1.8 million painting has artists seeing red” (nice hed by the copy editor) is representative of the coverage of the purchase of Barnett Newman’s masterpiece Voice of Fire by the National Gallery of Canada.

Part of the front page, with black and white photo of the painting
Part of the front page, with black and white photo of the painting

The photo illustrating the story is a few inches high and in black and white.

The National Gallery of Canada has spent nearly two-thirds of its $3 million annual acquisitions budget on a canvas by an American painter, and some Canadian artists don’t like that they see.

The work, Voice Of Fire, was painted by Barnett Newman, a major figure in 20th-century art. It cost $1.8 million.

“We think the national gallery’s priorities are pretty backward,” said Greg Graham, a director of a national artists’ lobby group called Canadian Artists Representation/Front des artistes canadien (CARFAC).

“It bothers us that such a big chunk of the budget is going to purchase a work by an American artist,” Graham said in an interview from Ottawa.

Voice Of Fire, which measures 5.4 metres by 2.4 metres (18 feet by 8 feet), consists of a deep red stripe against a blue background.

“We’re part of an international world,” said Shirley Thomson, director of the national gallery. “Nobody has demanded that we take away our Rembrandts… This painting has a place in Canada.”

Shirley Thomson was right. The painting is an absolute masterpiece.

Voice of Fire is revisited in Listening to Art 12.09.