in|discussion public lecture series 2014-15

Posted: 6 October, 2014

‌Wouter Davidts

As Pointless as a Yard Rule
Barnett Newman and the Scale of Painting

6pm Thursday 9th October 2014

RD005, Rathdown House, School of Creative Arts
Dublin Institute of Technology,
Dublin 7


“One thing that I am involved in about painting,” Barnett Newman mentioned in a 1965 interview with David Sylvester, “is that the painting should give man a sense of place: that he knows he’s there, so he’s aware of himself.” One of his main aims was to ensure that an onlooker became aware of his bodily presence and gained a sense of his “own scale” when standing in front of one of his large color field paintings. The work and figure of Newman present us with a series of intriguing paradoxes regarding size and scale. While Newman is often portrayed as a pioneer of big canvases, he developed a method of working in opposite size relationships. Large and wide paintings were consistently balanced out by small and narrow ones. In 1966, he indicated that he was “not involved in size for its own sake” but rather in moving his paintings “into a sense of large scale.” At the same time the artist, who was deeply invested in painterly abstraction, advocated for a renewed interest in subject matter, a concern that once again was intimately connected with scale: “[s]ize doesn't count. It's scale that counts. It's human scale that counts, and the only way you can achieve human scale is by content.” One of the most famous yet puzzling photographs of Newman show the artist and an unidentified woman standing in front of the painting Cathedra in his studio in New York in 1958, nearly touching the painting’s surface with their noses. This talk will tackle this and other similarly staged photographs of Newman standing or sitting in front of his paintings as key documents to explore the intricate apprehension of the scale of painting that Newman’s work advances.


Wouter Davidts (Antwerp, B/Amsterdam, NL) is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the VU University in Amsterdam. Between 2003 and 2008 he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Architecture & Urban Planning of Ghent University (UGent), where he obtained a PhD on museum architecture in 2003. In the fall of 2006 he was a British Academy research fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. He was a research fellow at the Research Group of Visual Arts, Academie voor Kunst en Vormgeving|St Joost, Avans Hogeschool between 2007 and 2008, and a visiting research fellow at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds in the fall of 2008.
All are welcome to this free public event.

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