Canvas painted blue with a white line sells for nearly $44 million [5 pictures]

May 16, 2013 | By Abraham | 148 comments

“Onement VI” from abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman sold on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at a Sotheby’s auction for a record-setting 43.8 million dollars.

Below you can see a couple of people experiencing how — as Sotheby’s describes it —

Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip.”

Newman painted this 8.5′ x 10′ masterpiece in 1953. Here he is with it in his studio in 1961…

“Onement VI” should not be confused with Newman’s earlier work “Cathedra” from 1951…

Barnett Newman's Cathedra

Previously: World’s most expensive photo just sold for $4.3 million

(via Seattle Pi, All Art NewsDaily Mail)

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148 Comments

        1. ProfessionalGun says:

          Yeah, this does seem ridiculous at first glance. I’m trying to consider that art collectors are often interested in simply owning a piece of an artist’s body of work, regardless of its complexity or modern day relevance. I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt that Barnett Newman, who died in 1970, really made an impact with this piece and others like it in 1953 – a time when something this abstract might’ve really seemed stunning, and might’ve influenced the direction of style and design moving forward.

          My guess is that without the artist’s notoriety and history, it would be impossible to sell a piece like this for $44 million.

          1. Barbara Holtzman says:

            You would think that if he had made that much of a contribution that he would be a bit more known 60 years later. I’ve never heard of him.

          2. Cosmin says:

            Money laundering through art. That’s even the name of a book from Amazon (haven’t read it) as first google result.

          3. Bekki says:

            It might not be much now but as you said, something like this in the 50′s would have been very controversial, so the history is a very important part of it. Also if he did this freehand it is quite amazing as I can’t even draw and I in a straight line haha. And people don’t dis the artist as he did it to put what he felt in imagery and it is a beautiful way to express yourself.. Dis the people who said that this is worth 44 million, and even worse the people who bought it who probably know nothing of what real art is.. (studied art for over 5 years and the stuff you will see will leave you flabbergasted, but it is never the artists fault, unless he is the one selling it, because artists just express themselves in whatever way they can, it’s the people who deem to know what these paintings really mean and that would pay that amount of money are the ones who are really stupid [but hey i should shut up coz they are the people who are keeping artists like me in business :P ])

          4. Nancy Hall says:

            I agree, ProfessionalGun. and Barbara Holtzman…Barnett Newman is quite famous, but you would have to know something about modern art to recognize his name. He was an influential figure in the art world, which is why the painting sold for as much as it did. It’s unfortunate that art has become a commodity these days. The price is high, probably due in part to rarity. I don’t imagine Newman’s wind up on the auction block very often.

        2. Jim Somers says:

          It’s like what Steve Martin, in the movie “The Jerk” said after tasting caviar for the first time: “tastes like fish eggs to me.”

    1. Irena M says:

      Same here Josh…I could try to be funny, or sarcastic, or mean.
      Let the “artists” and enthusiasts of this “art” voice their opinions.
      BTW: the white line has no sharp borders, very uneven. I would not pay for it $44 mil, maybe 43. LOL…

    2. Snoopy says:

      Watching this painting as an abstract painting, i see that the painting was based on sex, lust, greed, burning fire, happiness for one, pain for the other also there are three persons on the left to the bottom of the painting… man so much to be said about this painting i wanna cry, wish i can see it in real :/

  1. Jesse G says:

    Just as it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,
    It’s not what you do, it’s what name is signed in the corner.

    1. Marie says:

      there should be a love button here…. you absolutely get it. A fool and his money will soon be parted…

    1. slayerwulfe says:

      the masking tape pulled off some of the paint, it’s a technique all the great artist use to make it look like they painted it that way.

      1. Emily says:

        It’s not that the masking tape pulled off some of the paint. If he used masking tape the paint leaches underneath the tape. He would have painted the entire canvas the light blue so that any “holidays,” the areas of dark blue where the paint was missed (the bottom left panel has a few) are more pleasant to look at than if it were against the colour of the canvas. Then any tape would be applied followed by the dark blue paint.

  2. Paula says:

    Wow, I know how to get rich now. I could do that blindfolded. Some people don’t quite deserve what they get.

  3. Will T says:

    This is why trickle down never trickles down. You see when you have everything you start to spend it on crap like this. I don’t think one person really finds this so beautiful it would bring tears to their eyes. To them it is either commodity or a status symbol. One is equal to saving your spider man #1 and the other is retarded.

  4. daniel says:

    RabbleRabbleRabble I don’t understand it or it doesn’t speak to me or I wouldn’t pay that much for it or I don’t like it or my 6 year old kid could paint that Rabble Rabble Rabble subjective experiences should only be valued at what I think they should be valued at rabble rabble rabble modern art sucks and this is proof I’m voicing my displeasure at something rabble rabble!

    (A brief summary of the comments thus far)

    1. Carol says:

      Maybe you can try to explain to us all the vslue of what you’re seeing and we obviously aren’t?

    2. Bryce Smith says:

      Sorry it sucks. It’s a huge waste of paint. Also it is insulting to other that actually study the way light behaves and apply that knowledge: Good Design, Good Composition, Mood Setting, Warm vs. Cool, Anatomy, Texture, Proportion, Subsurface Scattering, Caustics, Stroke Economy, Value, Form Shapes, Edges, Color Theory, Atmospheric Perspective, Perspective, Design layouts, Initial Read, Rhythm, Detail. Should I go any further? This is kindergarten crap.

      1. Terri says:

        Must be nice to pretend that you understand art. I’m a non-objective artist (many mistakenly call it abstract) and no, your 3 year old could not produce something like this. This painting is about color and emotion. I suppose it needs to be a bowl of fruit to fit your criteria. You are also observing a photo of the work. Nothing can replace observing it in real life. Everyone is a critic, I suppose. Some are just more qualified than others.

        1. Mel says:

          Emotion? Please explain how you can see emotion in that ‘painting’? What are you able to see that most of us can’t?

    3. Sylvester says:

      Someone forgot to feed the troll ? There’s always one of these isn’t there ? Sobbing on general opinions is okay I guess, but taking the time to put it in a comment using a Southpark ref… get a life, or state an actual opinion so people can moan over yours as you do on theirs.

    1. Andy says:

      Nothing. If just any abstract work sold for millions, Art programs would be flooded with students trying to make some quick money.

  5. slayerwulfe says:

    the greatest work of art i have yet seen is curiosity the mars rover and it’s the reason young has no use or concern for old.

    slayerwulfe cave

  6. Sane says:

    Kudos to the guy who bought it!
    May it adorn his walls for years to come but if, if this sells again I swear to myself I will never trust in human race again and go live in the wilderness and mate with goats.

  7. MXC says:

    It’s…it’s just a line. Why can’t concept art be worth half or even a tenth as much as this?

  8. Eric says:

    I’m not gonna lie: I’m not a fan of most abstract art, but I do find this one rather enchanting. It’s certainly not $44 million worth of enchantment, mind you. $4,400 might be reasonable. The superfluous orders of magnitude of the actual price are paying for the name, not the art, which I think is foolish.

    1. Graystone says:

      I’d pay $40. Maybe $400; canvas and paints can be expensive. It’s still just a simple white line.

      1. Eric says:

        Well if it doesn’t enthrall you in any way (which is fine: art is entirely subjective and no one piece is going to appeal to everyone) then I don’t see why you’d bother to spend ANY money on it. :P

        While I mentioned that I think it’s silly to spend money just on an artist’s name, you also shouldn’t be buying art based on the cost of the materials. You should buy it for the emotions it evokes in you.

  9. Bbweis says:

    Ugh. Reminds me of two blue rectangles separated by a white line. Oh wait, it is. I’ve never seen anything so stupid; sorry, but I’m serious.

  10. TheHonestGuy says:

    What….? I could spend hours and hours painting something realistic and detailed and any local gallery would decline it, saying it’s not worth much, if anything, but this guys work… something interior designers do a far better job with a paint-roller day after day sold for that much?…. blimey…. modern “musicians” and “some” artists have their heads proper sewn on don’t they?….

    1. Nancy Hall says:

      A lot has to do with timing and the time to be a groundbreaking abstract expressionist is past, but then so is the time to be a classical painter. That ship sailed a long, long time ago. Barnett Newman and his contemporaries, most of whom have been dead for decades (Newman died 44 years ago), did work like nothing anyone had seen before. That’s why this painting is worth so much to the collector who bought it. I get that you don’t understand it, but that says more about you than it does about the artist. You should probably be embarrassed that you find a 61 year old painting to be outlandish. It makes you sound like a rube.

      1. Mel says:

        Oh I understand that the artist was breaking new ground, but lets be real…..it’s 2 blue rectangles with a white line down the middle. Not that clever.

  11. nosbig werdna says:

    This is sick. The “painting” is er what exactley, exept crap.
    44 million is beyond stupid, the buyer must be so far detached from reality that it hurts to think that the money could have been better spent on those who need it, The NHS, abused children, the homeless, rape victims, the list goes on.
    You the paiinter needs to get a grip on reality, since you now have $44 million in your account !

  12. Pokemono says:

    You need to be a great artist to sell a blue rectangle with a white stripe in the middle for $44 millions I’d like to be an artist like that.

  13. Brucey says:

    What really is a blast is that there are quite a few people on this list of comments who are taking this seriously!

  14. EJ says:

    There used to be a time where actual art was considered beautiful and actually contained some aesthetic content. And here we are today, selling big slabs of wall paint that look like a house painter’s practice boards for the cost of two or three business jets.

    This onset of so-called “modern art” is not even funny anymore. Persons void of any sign of reasonableness are becoming stupidly wealthy simply because they can explain the world’s most idiotic items with elevated, fancy words.

    Today, our culture reflects a central theme: underachievement. Even the current music world generally consists of songs that have superficial lyrics at best that bicker the same old I VI IV V chord progression. And yet, their artists are hailed by millions of accolades, usually by people who have absolutely no idea whether these songs have positively contributed to their lives. Most probably not.

    1. Andy says:

      You’re complaining about Art that was made over 60 years ago. If you want to critique contemporary painting, you should probably look at the work of someone who was alive within the past few decades.

  15. Tojo Melville says:

    I think it amazing….I have several similar which I have just churned out…er I mean painted. One is white with a single blue line…..and I even have one with two blue lines..therefore it is worth double. Offers over $80,000,000 considered.

    1. Nancy Hall says:

      You guys are really not getting this whole art auction thing, are you. It’s not rocket science. Barnett Newman has been dead for 44 years. He painted this 60 years ago. Some museum or collector sold this painting to another museum or collector.

  16. Kathleen says:

    On photos you can’t really understand why it’s so great, but in person in a gallery or museum it is really amazing. Also Newman doesn’t get a penny of this because the painting didn’t belong to him (or rather his estate) when it sold. Who ever owned it when it sold got the money, Newman got probably a couple thousand for it when it sold the first time (if I wasn’t donated to a patron or museum)

    The thing about this piece isn’t really what it is but what it represents, which is the move from strictly idealistic representational art to art that leaves to the viewer what to take away from it. Some people don’t take anything away from it, and that’s fine, some people who have had an opportunity to see it in person take away quite a bit. That is what art is all about.

    Just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean it isn’t art. It just means that you don’t get it.

    1. Loola Bayou says:

      No .. it means that you think this canvas painted with blue and a white line means something… it doesnt… its not art…its gimmick , its fraud, its laziness… its nothing…..

      1. Nancy Hall says:

        Actually, Loola, there are lots of people who find these enormous paintings compelling. They do think that what Newman did is art and they also understand that it wasn’t fraud, laziness or gimmickry; but rather a new form of painting that is still influencing artists today. People like Barnett Newman said, essentially, that a painting or sculpture didn’t have to look like another object in order to have meaning. That was a revolutionary concept and that’s why paintings like this one sell for millions of dollars. The reason somebody can’t do something like this today and expect to make millions is that it’s been done. This is already old and there are younger artists making new stuff that you would probably find as baffling as you find this.

  17. Tom Hendricks says:

    This is one reason why there is an art revolution going on called Postmod, or no-isms.

    Here’s why I think Modern art is neither modern nor art (or at least not very good art) anymore.
    1. Cold 2. Disjointed 3. Can’t communicate it’s message 4.Weird 5.Elitist 6. Technically poor if there is technique at all 7. Pompous and inflated, often takes up a room 8. Non functional, not useful, not integrated into life 9 No breadth or scope. From Five Doors to the Art Revolution, video #2.

    Modern art – dada without the charm.

    Part of the vitality in art is the rebellion against the mainstream. To bring vitality back to art, we should oppose the salon art , that modern art has become

    1. Nancy Hall says:

      How could we have Postmod without Mod? And isn’t Postmod an ism, and a hackneyed one at that? There’s always going to be something new, but that doesn’t mean that the old has no validity or vitality. It’s a foundation. It’s all a foundation, going back to cave paintings. I can’t say that I’m a huge Barnett Newman fan, but there are a few abstract expressionists whose work I like a lot including Pollack, DeKooning and Bacon. I don’t find them cold, disjointed, weird, elitist (?), technically poor (compared to what?), pompous because they’re big, not integrated into life (what does that even mean?), or lacking in breadth or scope. I left out the part about non-functionality because unless were’ talking about an especially beautiful spoon or chair, nearly all art lacks functionality. As for charm…that’s probably in the eye of the beholder. Dada was often amusing, but there are only so many times you can tell the same joke before it starts to get tedious.

  18. Ben Henshall says:

    I agree with the majority, and that is that no piece of art can be worth 44M of debt that somebody else owes. The purchaser is immoral.

  19. Andy says:

    What upsets me about articles like this one is that it gives a false sense of the Art Market. Most excellent painters, including excellent abstract painters, make little money on their art. Most of the big names of any generation teach in order to make their living.

    Newman’s paintings sold well in his lifetime but nothing anywhere near this price. He’s been dead for almost half-a-century, so the painting went for so much since he’s a major name in the history of Modern Art and his paintings are super-scarce.

  20. Mirocq says:

    This painting is brilliant! As for all the comments, first of all this is not “modern” art, it is abstract expressionism. I am getting tired of that, modern art is period finished long time ago! This is work done by one brilliant man and it can be considered as starts of contemporary and minimal art which I am a big fan of, it represent start of new age in art through minimal form. Yes, there are people like me and I would love to have something like this for sure, although I am bigger fan of more new artists (like Miya Ando). As for the price, please… You still not get it that there are people who earn this per month? And what if I tell you that there are people who earn this much per week? For them this is not a high price to pay, after all it is Barnett Newman. Please keep judgments for political pages, some revolutions or pub, this is ART and for those who claim otherwise, every expression of creativity is ART, if you can do this then start doing it! Leave your computer and go paint! Create! And after all, art is always expression of an individual and it is experienced by the individual in their own way, as Barnett said himself “I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality”, and I am sure that only the buyer of this work knows how it feels. Thank you and sorry for my bad English, it is my third language. Adieu

  21. clavedoc says:

    This discussion is fascinating!
    It’s amazing that many people’s criticisms revolve around the financial value accorded to a work of art, as if there is a useful correspondence between the two, It says a lot about society that we can only judge in moneterised form.
    I had a good chuckle about the person who thought this was extraordinary because they’d never even heard of Newman. I guess they were at least good enough to admit it…….
    The post about postmodernism has some validity. However, it’s not exactly new criticism, those are the points that were being made in the 1970′s. However, there perhaps is a bit of hint here in that postmodernism is called that because it came after modernism; ie it is reference against modernism. Newman’s work represents some of the highest points of modernism as articulated by Greenberg and Fried. Yes, it can be criticised on all sorts of grounds (as well as not actually liking it) but it changed the formulation of art so much that what came after was very much bench marked against it. It took it’s place by not being modernist. As such this 60 year old work stands at a critical place in the history of art, and this historical and cultural place no doubt adds to its saleable value considerably above any specific aesthetic considerations.
    Interestingly for those who deny its aesthetic value and purely for interest the point of such works were supposed to be for the pure and instantaneous aesthetic sense they gave as autonomous works without reference to other stuff such as the depicted subject or figurative illusions. You either get that or you don’t, and if you don’t then it’s not compulsory, but just a note of caution; seeing a reproduction on your computer will elicit nothing of the effect of seeing the work in the flesh; the picture is more nuanced than it appears, the paint has more variation/texture than it appears, and the scale and the way it fills your visual field is very different.

  22. felonius screwtape says:

    on the one hand, yes, 44M for a newman is crazy, but on the other hand, you’re all a bunch of complete philistines.

  23. Brennen says:

    I know someone that played a joke at a gallery. He crumpled up a piece of paper and set it on a table, set up a light pointing at the paper, casting a shadow on the wall, then he walked away. When he came back people were surrounding the “art” and admiring it. The name of my story is called “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

  24. Randall says:

    This is without a doubt the dumbest story I’ve ever read. It’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch about how stupid the high art world is that someone would be so stupid to pay $44 million dollars for a piece of a blue wall anyone with a paintbrush and a can of blue paint could paint blindfolded and it would look exactly the same.

  25. Randall says:

    This is without a doubt the dumbest story I’ve ever read. It’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch about how stupid the high art world is that someone would be so stupid to pay $44 million dollars for a piece of a blue wall anyone with a paintbrush and a can of blue paint could paint blindfolded and it would look exactly the same.

  26. LeBob says:

    WOAW, I think I have a Newman too and didn’t even know about it!
    Except, we call it a table tennis- table, and not Onement VI.

    Oops, thanks now I know!

  27. Art says:

    Absolutely brilliant. The azure colors submerge you into a void of which its profundity grabs and tears at one’s soul, finding its parallel in the literal creation of the painting, was the white line painted over the azure background, or was the background painted in a inwards motion from the outer edges, until an imperfect, limitless yet finite white nothingness tear both the fabric of reality and of the canvas? I got you didn’t I.

  28. Lisette says:

    The comments are really sad. It is obvious that most do not understand the art and because they do not they react with comments that have no reflection. Rather they would praise an artist like Bob Ross or Kincaid because the imagery does not call upon intellectual thinking.

    This painting is amazing if you had the privilege to witness it in person. The color pulls you in, that blue has an effect on you ( there are really studies on color theories) and the white line is representative. It is jagged on purpose, with a bit more research, you would understand what it means.

    1. starseed says:

      Yes maybe it would but the point is you could do it yourself if you had the paint and canvas……it doesn’t require any special skill

  29. the art itself says:

    Dear Lisette :) give me pls 3 days for reflection and 1 day for providing 10 pcs of same kind of blue paints/white line, all for 1 % of the amount paid at this auction…

  30. American Infide says:

    Those people don’t know what they’re talking about! That painting is actually a WHITE LINE with BLUE FIELDS on either side. Whoever bought that has some serious brain damage!

  31. RG says:

    People say things can value what people pay for them…

    in this case we can say a smart ass tryed to sell this for millions, and idiot with millions paid

    the only lesson about this story is: there are too many idiots with too many millions…

  32. elmer p katz says:

    The National Gallery in Ottawa paid a controversial fortune for one of his works, Voice of Fire, but it paid for itself tenfold from the massive increase in attendance. People wanted to see for themselves what the fuss was all about.
    As to people who say ‘My kid could have done that’. Well, yeah, but he didn’t, did he?

    1. Eric says:

      Actually, yea, my kid did paint exactly that. Nobody has been stupid enough to pay him $44 million for it, but if the right government is willing to buy some of these works for their offices, it would prop up the price enough for it to be worth a fortune. No more common sense these days.

  33. Thomas s says:

    I’ve read some (not all) of the comments here) but I still want to throw in my two cents.

    I always think people don’t understand art like this because it always taken out of context from the artists whole body of work and this is why many pieces on their own do not work or mean anything to people. Art galleries often act as part of the industry of cultural diversion and do not explain or showcase work or artists well, for example. Many pieces like this are more important than they seem but it is hard to understand without being aware of the world of art. I do agree that this sort of money is absurd but that’s just where the prices in the world of art now.

    Saaaafe

  34. rodliza says:

    this was created in the 60′s, which means it’s a historical artifact. In the 60′s America finally grew out of it’s shell post WW 2, and became one of the most powerful nations, which means we also lead and inspired culture on global scale. This thought of simplistic principles is actually HARD to come up, because culture is so limited by european classical art. This movement of abstraction and simplicity was our (american) way of saying “we’re powerful and we can create any kind of art we want”…

  35. Alex says:

    Most commenting overlook the historical context of the piece. It would have been considered rather daring in the art world at the time, a very modern notion. It obviously doesn’t age well to the casual viewer, as it seems quite commonplace to us now. But historical significance brings a high price, as does a bad case of the emperor’s new clothes, of course. ;)

  36. Gilbert says:

    I don’t Airbrushing some of my art is highly detailed whoever bought that for $44mill i have some stuff i will sell to you Half price ….LMAO i could use $22 mil ….god i could use just a few grand …lol
    anyways i don’t consider this kind of stuff art IT IS NOT ART!!! sorry but two blue panels with a white stripe it makes me laugh it’s such a joke
    i will gladly post my facebook page so you can see what i do i’m not claiming to be the best but i can get by i just don’t make $44mil selling my art :(

    come and buy my art it has pictures…lol

  37. kyankov says:

    I would say this is just another laundry for dirty money… Same thing goes for football and lottery…

  38. Anderson says:

    I wish someone would steal the money & give it to charity instead.

    & the people who bought this.. they should just kill themselves.

  39. Leo Rodrigues says:

    There are so many problems in the world and people spend money on such stupid things under the name of art. In reality, they have no idea about art and are fooled by such artists who knows how to convince people by giving some perspective. Art should come from heart, and if his heart has given him a vision of a blue rectangle with white line then he sucks, or he is so smart that he knows people will buy anything what he creates.

  40. Saige says:

    The painting, the high price, and the meaning behind it are all from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, this artist is a fraud and I truly hope someone of importance also realizes this so he can stop making millions off of a lie.

  41. Saige says:

    My bad nevermind, just realized he painted this before the book was published, he may have been the inspiration for the character.

  42. Parji Kalingga says:

    Critic says:
    “Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip.””

    I say, “F*** you critic!”

    There’s no sensual thing on it. There’s no human presence. It’s blue canvas with white line. That’s it.

  43. jimy says:

    I’m know very little about art but i hope the person who bought the painting could also donate or has donated $44 million to charity.

    I mean, he/she is obviously rich and is a patron of the arts. But come on, that painting is really crap. Put meaning into it, say that the artist who made it is well-known, underline it’s importance in history, but it really is just a very well painted ping-pong table. Everything else in everyday life is worth more than that piece of art.

  44. robinah says:

    Maybe the line was not meant to be straight,it might have meant something its very obvious that the uniqueness of this painting has made it popular so that means it was a worth the 44m.There is no perfection unless you are the creator because then you know what you wanted and made.

  45. Jim says:

    Based on what I remember from my HS Humanities class 30+ years ago, this is art. Based simply on the fact that it still generates this much discussion. Isnt that one of the most important criteria?

  46. Foobar says:

    I’m sure the buyer bought it only as an investment and that person is laughing at the idiots who think that it is “art”. The buyer will sell it to another investor and make a profit while the art aficionados continue to inflate its value. I have seen the same art just before I flush.

  47. Autumnsheart666 says:

    So, I could have my two year old paint something like this and make 43 million right? I’m sorry… I realize “art” is subjective and all, but this is absolute rubbish! Was the artist having a bad day or something? If this is “art” than this is no different than a musician making an album of fart noises, and hiccuping Giraffes and selling it to the tune of millions. Absolute nonsense!

    1. wawawlolol says:

      you call it rubbish and it sells 44m? do you think you can make one like that lol give me a break!! foolish artist this dayz

  48. LOL art says:

    you guyz are pathetic you always say i can do it / my son can do it / blah blah blah but here is the catch did you try to doing it and or making it to the auction shhesh the hell i/m really pissed i want to kill you all hahah it’s a serious joke guys….

    and yes i welcome grammar nazi

    thank you cursed you all

    bye then

    anyway nothing

    ohh

    nevermind

    1. Mel says:

      but who would WANT to do that? I’m an artist and if I painted something like I would just be embarrassed. A block of color separated by a line…Jesus. Shoot me now.

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