Wouter Davidts: Writings & Projects

RESEARCH

* Larger than the Body: Size and Scale in Postwar American Art

 

Barnett Newman and unidentified woman standing in front of Cathedra (1951) in his Front Street studio, New York, 1958. Photograph by Peter A. Juley & Son.

Barnett Newman and unidentified woman standing in front of Cathedra (1951) in his Front Street studio, New York, 1958. Photograph by Peter A. Juley & Son.

The book-length project on size and scale was initiated during a British Academy Research Fellowship at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2006, where I studied and documented The Unilever Series, the yearly commission of a large-scale sculptural installation for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

The research seeks to develop a critical framework to assess the manifold large-size and ‘gigantic’ objects that ever more frequently populate contemporary museums’ galleries, vestibules and plazas. Its intends to explore the impact of what is generally called the ‘expanded field of post-war art’, but what could more precisely be termed as the ‘expanded scale of art after Minimalism’, on the spatial dimensions of contemporary art, of art institutions and their architecture and finally of commissioned artworks and exhibitions.

 

•Donald Judd, Interior of North East Gallery and Living quarters of the East Building, The Block (La Mansana de Chinati), The Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas.

• Donald Judd, Interior of North East Gallery and Living quarters of the East Building, The Block (La Mansana de Chinati), The Judd Foundation, Marfa, Texas.

To this end the book-project proceeds via four in-depth studies of the diverging notions of size and scale within the specific work and practice of four seminal figures of Postwar American art, each of which are generally associated with the scalar inflation of art: Barnett Newman, Claes Oldenburg, Donald Judd, and Richard Serra. Each of these four artists are systematically mentioned in discussions on size and scale, yet all too often without a proper comprehension of the particular understanding of size and scale that their respective works and practices advance.

 

Each of the four consecutive chapters of the envisioned book zooms in on the body of work of one artist in order to trace and describe the understanding of the relative size of an artwork that the respective artists develop over time throughout their works and writings, in such diverging media as painting, sculpture, and drawing, against the background of rapidly changing realms of architecture, urban planning and image culture in the second half of the 20th century. I do not aim to provide an exhaustive survey of artworks by many different artists, but rather an in-depth study of four bodies of work that deserve critical scrutiny as a whole – and in between all of which many both historical and conceptual interesting links are to be discerned.

 

* Post-Studio

Since artists like Robert Smithson, Daniel Buren or John Baldessari, generally considered the protagonists of the so-called post-studio era, announced the fall of the studio, l’atelier d’artiste seems to have lost its natural role and mythical status. But does this mean that the artist’s studio or the artistic workplace in general has been obsolete ever since? It remains surprising that the critical reading of the institutional regime and its paradigmatic spaces by these artists and many of their contemporaries, amounted to a radical elimination of only the studio – the single space we nowadays determine by the prefix ‘post.’

In this book-length project on the nature and status of the artist’s studio I investigate ramifications of the alleged annihilation of that very space within postwar art and art criticism. Is there a difference between workplace and studio, the former being abstract and the latter institutionally coded? What is the position of the studio in the ever increasing ‘network’ of spaces and events of today’s artworld?

* Is Architecture Art? A history of categories, concepts and recent practices

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Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); 10 June – 9 October 2016

The recurring question of whether architecture is an art does not allow for a simple answer. The posing of it, however, usefully exposes many of the ways in which the concept of architecture has changed and is changing. In some circumstances and settings today architecture is considered an art, and in others not. This situation has also varied historically as architecture professionalised over the twentieth century, and the concepts of ‘art’, ‘the arts’, of culture and the creative economy have shifted. The project does not attempt to answer the question of whether architecture is an art, but rather to look at the points and moments at which the question arises and if this affects the concept of architecture as a practice and a discipline. It aims to identify the overlaps and misalignments between concepts and institutional categories, and to trace the impact of the latter on the ways that art and architecture are valued. We hope that unpacking the historical and current interests at stake in this question will lead to a better understanding of architecture in contemporary culture.

At the core of the project is an examination of the conceptual and practical tensions that have emerged around the way architecture is positioned in contemporary visual arts and cultural policy. A significant part of the research is dedicated to the current phenomenon of art institutions commissioning architects to produce temporary, largely function-less pavilions and installations. The project also encompasses research on the collection of architecture by art institutions; the exhibition of architecture; cultural policy on architecture; collaborations between artists and architects; and the use of architecture as a medium or subject by visual artists. While the research is focused on recent decades, it is considered in the light of the history of aesthetics and cultural theory since the eighteenth century.

“Is Architecture Art?” is a research project of the Centre for Architecture, Theory, History and Criticism (ATCH), at the School of Architecture, University of Queensland in partnership with Ghent University. The project is funded by a Discovery Grant of the Australian Research Council. More information on the team and the on-going research is available on the project website: https://isarchitectureart.com