UCD Sculpture Trail: Newman’s Razor, 1972

Image Credit: Simon Dobey

Rachel Healy discusses Newman’s Razor, one of the thirty-five sculptures on the UCD Sculpture Trail

Newman’s Razor by Brian O’Doherty (Patrick Ireland) was created in 1972 and is displayed at Belfield House Courtyard. The sculpture is one of thirty-five monuments included in the UCD Sculpture Trail, which was curated in 2008. 

The title, Newman’s Razor, is reminiscent of the fourteenth-century theory of Occam’s Razor, whereby the simplest explanation is usually the best one, which correlates to the minimalist artwork. The sculpture is a horizontal free-standing column made from highly polished steel, which could easily pass as another one of the lighting poles in the vicinity. The artist’s intention was to create a mirrored surface which would reflect the environment and the viewer, thereby including them in the monument. The artwork is inscribed with letters from the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet. The alphabet of this linear writing style, which was used between the fourth and tenth century, is made up of horizontal and vertical lines which intersect. Ogham is read from bottom to top, from left to right. The inscription, which is incised into the monument, translates as, ‘One’, ‘Here’ and ‘Now’. ‘One’ represents unity; ‘Here’ reflects position; and ‘Now’ dismantles the past and future.

 “The artist’s intention was to create a mirrored surface which would reflect the environment and the viewer, thereby including them in the monument.”

Newman’s Razor was originally positioned in the centre of the courtyard, overlooked by the private dining room of the campus’ Restaurant building, before it was relocated to its current position. “I would have preferred it had remained in the position for which it was intended… a beautifully tranquil setting,” admits Curator of UCD’s Sculpture Trail, Professor Emerita Paula Murphy of the School of Art History and Cultural Policy. “In its new location it is only seen by the people who work in the area!”

The artist, Brian O’Doherty was born in Roscommon in 1928 to a family of doctors. O’Doherty attended UCD to study Medicine and later went on to study Science at Harvard in 1957. O’Doherty was a qualified doctor, before deciding to turn to art. He started as a part-time television presenter at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which involved interviewing the leading contemporary artists of the time. This led O’Doherty to the position of Art Critic for The New York Times in the 1960’s, which expanded his circle to artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Edward Hopper. 

In response to the deaths of fourteen unarmed civilians by the British army known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, Brian O’Doherty held a performance entitled Name Change. During this baptismal ceremony, the artist created his pseudonym, Patrick Ireland. Patrick Ireland wore white, as green and orange paint was thrown at him in the sign of the cross by artists Robert Ballagh and Brian King. O’Doherty said that he would return to his birth name once the British military was removed from Northern Ireland. Throughout this period, O’Doherty refused to exhibit in England. In 2008, ten years after the Good Friday Agreement, O’Doherty held a public burial ceremony for Patrick Ireland in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, in order to acknowledge the departure of the British army in Ireland. The effigy of Patrick Ireland was wrapped in a white cloth, placed in a coffin and buried with the headstone reading, “Patrick Ireland, born 1972, Died 2008”.

O’Doherty currently resides in the US and his paintings are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.