Scholars Michael Schreyach (left) and Eva Ehninger at the Terra Foundation Paris Center & Library.

“Barnett Newman’s ‘Formalism’: A Transatlantic Dialogue” by Michael Schreyach & Eva Ehninger

September 30, 2014
Terra Foundation Paris Center & Library

Throughout his career, Barnett Newman consistently rejected the charge that his radically abstract paintings were “formalist,” and resisted the notion that the content of his art could be understood through formal analysis. He claimed never to have “planned” a painting (he never tired of criticizing “aesthetics”), but rather concerned himself with fundamental problems of meaning. Still, just as Newman’s work benefitted from the authority of formalist criticism during the 1950s and 1960s, the assessment of his achievement declined under postmodernism. In discussing current approaches to Newman’s work from an American and a European perspective, this Paris Center dialogue between Michael Schreyach and Eva Ehninger focuses on the goals and limitations of a critically informed and historically conscious formalism.

Eva Ehninger, Assistant Professor, Institute of Art History, Universität Bern, Switzerland


Michael Schreyach, Associate Professor of Art History, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas


About the Speakers

Eva Ehninger is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Art History, Universität Bern, Switzerland. She has published the book Vom Farbfeld zur Land Art. Ortsgebundenheit in der amerikanischen Kunst 1950–70 (Silke Schreiber, 2013) and co-edited the volume Theorie²: Potenzial und Potenzierung künstlerischer Theorie (Peter Lang, 2014). Recent essays include “‘Man is Present.’ Barnett Newman’s Search for the Experience of the Self” (2012) and “What’s Happening? Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg Argue about Art And Life” (2014).

Michael Schreyach is Associate Professor of Art History at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and is currently the Terra Foundation Visiting Professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute at Freie Universität Berlin. He has published critical essays on Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Cy Twombly, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and is currently completing a book entitled Jackson Pollock and the Perception of Abstract Expressionism.

Additional Reading on this Subject

Eva Ehninger “’Man is Present.’ Barnett Newman’s Search for the Experience of the Self,” in: Isabel Wünsche/Birgit Mersmann/ Paul Crowther (Hgg.): Meanings of Abstract Art: Between Nature and Theory, London:Routledge 2012, p. 141–157.

Schreyach, M. (2013).  Barnett Newman’s ‘Sense of Space’: A Noncontextualist Account of Its Perception and Meaning. Common Knowledge, 19:2 , 2013 p. 351–379.