“Smart and entertaining.” (Reverse Shot)
It is known as one of the worst crimes in contemporary art history: the murder—twice—of Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III. First, in 1986 a delusional man entered Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and slashed the huge abstract canvas to ribbons. Then, American conservator Daniel Goldreyer, hired to restore it, returned the painting to the gallery utterly devoid of its original radiance. Instead of painstakingly repairing the canvas by hand, Goldreyer was accused of applying paint with a roller, irrevocably destroying it. More than twenty-five years later, Barbara Visser has reconstructed the drama, summoning up the voices of the artist, the museum director, critics, art historians, and the culprits alike, not to point the finger, but to determine the moment of death. Because when does a work of art—whether an object or an idea—cease to exist?