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Installation view. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Sunset, Sunrise. IMMA, Dublin. 10 August – 25 November 2018. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Exploring Iranian art in conjunction with the exhibition Sunset Sunrise by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian we invited London-based curator Vali Mahlouji, founder of Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD), to examine the relationship between revolutions and repression of art and artists tracing the socio-political situations that led to the Iranian Revolution and Islamic Revolution that saw artists of Farmanfarmaian’s generation seek political exile elsewhere. This blog draws on aspects on his ongoing research at the AOTFD and examine Farmanfarmaian’s cosmopolitan, modernizing impulses and undisciplined return to tradition against the background of the cross-cultural, and emphatically transnational histories of art in the 1960s and 1970s. The ‘Sunset, Sunrise’ exhibition was on view at IMMA from 10 August to 25 November 2018.

In conjunction with my talk on Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, this blog draws on aspects of my ongoing research, as relates to the Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD), http://valimahlouji.com/archaeologyofthefinaldecade/

Founded in 2010, AOTFD is a non-profit research and curatorial platform which investigates and reactivates histories of nations condemned by social displacement, cultural annihilation or deliberate disappearance.

Relying on archaeological forensics, AOTFD engages with accounts of culture which have been lost through material destruction, acts of censorship, or be it political, economic or human contingencies. Its core aim is the identification, investigation and re-circulation of significant cultural and artistic materials that would otherwise remain obscure, under-exposed, and endangered. In some instances, the materials that AOTFD engages with, have been banned or purposefully destroyed. See for example AOTFDS’s retrieval of the archives of Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis.

AOTFD’s exhibition of Excavated Archives of Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis part of A Utopian Stage at Dhaka Art Summit ’18. Courtesy Archaeology of the Final Decade and DAS ’18.

The excavation, identification, investigation, reclamation and reactivation of those materials into cultural memory, as a means to counteracting the damages of censorship and historical erasure, are the driving force of the AOTFD project.

Far from espousing a fetishist admiration of the singular object, AOTFD treats instead it’s retrieved, side-lined materials as tangible reminders and embodiments of critical cultural and historical shifts that have marked the history of the 20th century.

Recirculation and reactivation of those artefacts and materials into cultural memory and the public sphere is deliberately aimed at destabilising imposed or accepted historical narratives. Artistic objects are viewed as supplements that have the power to dismantle coherent, intact or unadulterated accounts of the past. Challenging fixed notions of the ruin and the derelict, AOTFD unfastens objects from sentimental connotations. The aim here, is to excavate and expose the interrelations between the social, geo-political, legislative and psychological contexts that have contributed to an object’s meaning, making and demise.

AOTFD is thus intended from the outset, as a gesture of solidarity that works against a neutralizing politics that would accompany a monumentalisation or a nostalgic revisiting to the past.

AOTFD_s exhibition of Cultural Atlas part of A Utopian Stage at Dhaka Art Summit _18. Courtesy Archaeology of the Final Decade and DAS _18.

The platform’s function is premised on the understanding that totalitarian systems of control amputate, and in other words, de-territorialise specifically targeted areas of art and culture (especially by focussing on a readily or easily stigmatised target). Furthermore, that in order to impose monologues across cultural reality, totalising systems always ensure to re – territorialise those areas of erasure by new and highly organised narratives that are specifically designed to serve the new order of imposition. This is especially demonstrated in the project Recreating the Citadel.

To heed the call of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who argues for ‘brushing history against the grain’, AOTFD is committed to a constructive re-reading of (art) history from the point of view of the defeated, and the victims. Therefore, AOTFD is committed to combating a tainted view of history transmitted from victor to victor, but instead memorialises those who are the subject of violent erasure. This is predicated on the belief that culture is not a communal space of harmonious existence, but it is rather a conflict filled field of negotiations and interpretations. Art itself, therefore, must be situated in this cultural crossfire, in order to realise its full historical meaning.

AOTFD stands, therefore, clearly as an archaeology of silences, of absences, of voids, of repressions and of particular blind spots of history. Its mission is to deliberately break the silence, to leak the repressed material back into consciousness and reinsert the contested artefact and silenced cultural object back into the public sphere. It embarks on missions of destablising, demystifying, contaminating, subverting and militating against fixed historical narratives and amnesias.

Tate Modern’s Kaveh Golestan room dedicated to AOTFD’s work on recreating the Citadel and Kaveh Golestan’s Prostitute series; I am presenting with Gregor Muir of Tate Modern, July 2018.

Over the course of time, it has become clear that those contested objects invariably constitute sites of collective trauma – sites that have endured systemic and prolonged violence and that embody historical trauma. Below their surfaces there lies a rich reservoir of knowledge, ripe for release.

Farmanfarmaian’s practice today would not constitute a contested site of culture, and thus does not align with the specific objectives set out by AOTFD.

After twenty-six years of exile following the Iranian revolution, the artist returned in Tehran in 2004 with her work receiving broad recognition and eventually institutional support.

To better understand Farmanfarmaian’s work, it’s worth considering her cosmopolitan, modernising impulses and undisciplined nativist return to tradition, set against the back drop of cross-cultural, and transnational histories attributed to art developments from the 1960s and 1970s. Both at home and abroad cosmopolitan interactions abounded on a scale that had never existed before.

The cultural context that allowed such cosmopolitan interactions, pollinations and imaginations to emerge facilitated a transmission of knowledge in both directions. The cosmopolitanisms and cross-cultural transnationalities of the 1960s and 1970s were more cyclical than linear. Farmanfarmaian’s work reminds us of the cosmopolitan climate that was equally responsible for facilitating, in her case, a reverse transmission of knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s from the peripheries to the centres.

More broadly and within an international context, Farmanfarmaian’s practice can be juxtaposed and contrasted against a set of prevalent discourses, especially those concerning Op and Pop Art, but also Abstraction, Minimalism and more loosely those of Arte Povera and Participatory art. Her insistence on appropriating patterns, ornaments and symbols of  Iranian meaning and significance constitutes an infiltration and contamination of the formal structures and disciplines of those distinct  approaches.

AOTFD’s exhibition Prostitute 75-77 at Photo London 2015, Somerset House, London. Courtesy Archaeology of the Final Decade, Kaveh Golestan Estate and Photo London.

The freedom comes however with a clear loss and at the expense of deeper, profoundly spiritual, esoteric experiences and underpinnings and collectively created knowledge handed down from generation to generation. Farmanfarmaian’s visual lexicon of abstraction is at once depleted and freed from inner meaning. In her prolific series of geometric drawings, creating and emphasising hierarchies of shapes that bear little resemblance, and make no exact reference to, the philosophical trajectories of the point, the line, the triangle and so forth confirm the same bastardisation of original order, proportion and harmony and subversion of the rigid, inflexible, unmalleable and infinitely expansive geometries that relate to cosmic laws.

Farmanfarmaian’s major exhibition at IMMA, Sunset, Sunrise further provides an opportunity to recognise Farmanfarmaian’s distinctly individual practice, where mutable and unstable works straddle the divides between the sacred and the mundane, high and low, amusement and introspection, the domestic and the sublime, playfully cosmopolitan and subversive at home and abroad.

My response is further elaborated in excerpt from my talk ‘Sunset, Sunrise – Mapping Farmanfarmaian’s Significance’ available to listen back to here.

Vali Mahlouji

Vali Mahlouji is a curator, advisor to the British Museum, the Bahman Mohassess Estate and director of Kaveh Golestan Estate. In 2010 he founded Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD), a non-profit curatorial platform excavating accounts of culture, which have remained obscure, banned or lost through material destruction, acts of censorship, political, economic or human contingencies. AOTFD has placed artworks in international collections including: Tate Modern, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, British Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Mahlouji’s recent curatorial work includes exhibitions at Dhaka Art Summit 2018, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Whitechapel Gallery, Singapore International Festival of Arts and Bergen Triennial. Upcoming exhibition will be at Sursock Museum, Beirut in 2019. He has been published by various institutions, including, the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin and the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Vali Mahlouji
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IMMA - The Irish Museum of Modern Art by Imma - Irish Museum Of Modern Art - 6M ago

Exploring the work of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Patricia Brennan from IMMA’s Visitor Engagement Team, takes a closer look at Farmanfarmaian’s Persian influences focusing on the artwork Shazdeh’s Garden, 2010. This work is currently on show in Sunset, Sunrise, a major exhibition of Farmanfarmaian’s work. Now in its final weeks the exhibition closes on Sunday 25 November 2018.

 Monir’s Garden

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Shazdeh’s Garden (2), 2010, Mirror and reverse glass painting on plaster and wood, 180 x 110 x 4 cm. Collection of A.R. Amiri. Courtesy the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

Lost in Translation

Persia. The old name for Iran is beautiful, exotic, other; as seen through my Western eyes. But Western eyes can miss the subtleties of another culture. Take, for instance, the above lines of poetry from Edward Fitzgerald’s “transcreation”, the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the 1859 translation from Farsi to English of a selection of quatrains attributed to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131). Fitzgerald confessed to taking liberties with the original quatrains, but claimed he was faithful to the spirit of the verses. (In his own lifetime, Khayyám came under severe criticism from the Persian authorities for his unorthodox philosophy). The controversies surrounding the translation, and the authorship of the quatrains, emphasises the differences between English speaking and Iranian cultures.

Sacred Geometry

The Iranian artist, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, born in 1924, successfully blends the aesthetics of east and west. Like Omar Khayyám, Farmanfarmaian is fascinated by the infinite possibilities of geometric forms. During his lifetime, Khayyám was best known in his native Persia as a distinguished mathematician and astronomer.

Farmanfarmaian is renowned for her works of reverse glass painting and mirror mosaics, inspired by the geometry and the architecture of ancient Iran blended with western Modernism – “All my inspiration comes from Iran – it has always been my first love.”

Exile

How tragic it must have been for the artist, then, when she and her husband, Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian, went into exile in New York in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution.

Installation view. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Sunset, Sunrise, 10 August – 25 November 2018. IMMA, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh.

Shazdeh’s Garden

Farmanfarmaian returned to live in Tehran, in 2004. Shazdeh’s Garden, 2010, which is made with little shards of mirror, and glass painted on the reverse, is figurative, and close to the folk-art of Iran, the coffee-house paintings that Farmanfarmaian admired and collected for many years.

The garden is of utmost importance in Iranian culture. Throughout her life, whether in Tehran or New York, Farmanfarmaian has tended her gardens, drawn flowers and birds, and famously enlisted the help of bees to make some of her drawings.

Persian Paradise

Shazdeh’s Garden evokes aspects of Iranian life and history, from architecture to Zoroastrianism. Even the word paradise comes from the old Farsi word Paridaida, meaning “walled enclosure”. The walls of a Persian garden provide shelter from the sun, and privacy.

Reflecting the Divine

The inspiration for Shazdeh’s Garden may have been Shazadeh’s Garden, in Shiraz, in southern Iran, which is an oasis surrounded by desert. In Iranian culture, the soul is a mirror that reflects the divine, and water shares this quality of reflection. In Shazadeh’s Garden, water runs over steps to form a waterfall, creating a stunning, central set piece as you walk through the arched entrance.

Pomegranate

The pomegranate tree is grown all over Iran for its decorativeness as much as for its fruit. Farmanfarmaian places one here, in the top left corner, in bloom and in fruit simultaneously. The pomegranate features in myths across the world, symbolising fertility and abundance, amongst other things. Poor Persephone, the Greek Goddess, was pulled back to the underworld for six months of every year; one month for every illicit pomegranate seed she had eaten there.

Pomegranate. Photo: Patricia Brennan, 2018.

Myth and memory

 The late, great A.A. Gill, described his first pomegranate as “a treasure box of beautifully packed precious beads…” He later understood that its sweet and sour taste was an allegory for his homesickness, and for his first kiss, aged twelve, at boarding school.

I ate some pomegranate seeds today; ripe, rich red garnets, and thought of Persphone’s loneliness, stuck in her own, dark, “Groundhog Day”. And of Farmanfarmaian, in exile in New York from 1979 until 2004. I thought of Monir’s generous, resilient and dignified attitude to life, love, art, exile, friendship, heartache and home.

About the Author

Patricia Brennan is a member of the Visitor Engagement Team at IMMA. She studied at NCAD, and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.

Click here to book tickets to visit the exhibition Sunset, Sunrise by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, The exhibition closes on Sunday 25 November.

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Freud Project. The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright. IMMA Collection 2018. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

We invite Arthur Seefahrt poet, writer and member of the IMMAs Visitor Engagement Team, to reflect on the fascinating ecology that underline Wright’s curatorial configurations of Freud, and inclusion of the envelope poems by Emily Dickinson

By Arthur Seefahrt

I am walking across my friend Susan’s porch.  It is a balmy summer night in Pennsylvania.  Susan’s house is nested in a densely wooded area and the nightsounds of the living forest are as thick as the air.  I am thinking about Lucian Freud and Emily Dickinson; about Daphne Wright, Timothy Morton, Derrida, Heidegger, Ottoline Leyser and Johnny Cash; about how these various artists and thinkers are linked; trying to gather them into an explainable bundle, grasping across hundreds of years, thousands of miles, and a dozen different disciplines.  Then it happens.  I stride face first through the invisible gossamer strands of a spider’s web.  I have it.  “The Ethics of Scrutiny” is a web in four dimensions.  A hyper-web.

Just as Morton explains the concept of a hyperobject, or Carl Sagan explains the idea of a tesseract, Daphne Wright’s curation of IMMA’s Freud Project, “The Ethics of Scrutiny”, has transcended our ability to perceive its limits.  We move within the show in both time and place, and it all begins with Dickinson’s “envelope poems”.

These arcane scraps of paper ensconced between poetry, sculpture, and diary, which challenge our understanding of Dickinson and the myth culture has built of her biography, are the totems of Daphne Wright’s curatorial sensibilities employed to arrange “Ethics”.  The objects themselves embody what Martin Heidegger terms the “alwaysalready”, and Wright has deftly positioned them in the opening room of the gallery, juxtaposing them with images of plant cells and neural networks drafted by Sigmund Freud, Lucian’s grandfather.

Freud Project. The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright. IMMA Collection 2018. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

This is the node, the centre of the invisible web which connects all the pieces in this show.  Wright is hinting at us; suggesting a language that reaches across time and discipline to equip us with new tools we as viewers can employ to scrutinise the canvasses of Lucian Freud.  And though the strands connecting Ottoline Leyser’s interview about plant epigenetics to John Berger’sWays of Seeing” to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” do not announce themselves, they ensnare us in a web of meanings, and as you walk through the gallery you can feel these links like unanticipated spider silk across the face.  They are the spokes of a web leading from Dickinson’s “Gorgeous Nothings” along new avenues of meaning to the manifold ways we can see into the canvasses of Lucian Freud.

As Dickinson herself writes in poem 1383, whose UMass Amherst archival envelope facsimile is on display in the vitrine in room one of “Ethics”:  “Long years apart – make no/ Breach a second cannot fill -/ The absence of the Witch does not/ Invalidate the spell-//”.  And indeed, Daphne Wright has curatorially performed a strange magic, illuminating new meanings of Freud through skilful and deliberate juxtapositions against a cadre of contemporary artists and an array of thinkers throughout time and place.   The show lives in time like a forest, continually in a state of contextual flux.  Leaving “The Ethics of Scrutiny” you almost have to wipe the threads of these subtle connections off your face like spider silk in order to re-enter normal time.

As we reach the final days of this remarkable exhibition I have had the pleasure to spend many hours in. I would strongly recommend you come spend some time herein this place before it changes over again.  I leave with you with following quote to take into the galleries before the show closes on Sunday 2 September 2018: “Place doesn’t stay still, but bends and twists: place is a twist you can’t iron out of the fabric of things.” ¾ Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology.

Further References and Resources

This blog is draws on content researched and developed for the recent Gallery Talk / Emily Dickinson’s Poetry & Ecology of the Gallery by Seefahrt. For further reference you can listen back here to this tour on the IMMA Sound Cloud where you can also find a dedicated playlist on talks related to the IMMA Collection Lucian Freud Project.

About Author

Arthur Seefahrt is a poet, writer of fiction, & maker. His work has appeared in floorplan journal, Bodega, Strangeways, and in translation in Fettliebe and Word for Word.  He has taught at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he received an MFA, and at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, as well as through the Brooklyn Poets NPO.  He performed a multimedia reading, Bugertown USA, at Webster Hall in New York, built a boat from scratch, and restores antique books.  He recently completed an M.Phil at Trinity College.  Decay Studies is a multimedia installation which was hosted by the Ranelagh Arts Centre, Dublin, earlier this year.

Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, curated by Daphne Wright closes on Sunday 2 September 2018

 

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IMMA Collection: Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright, Installation view, IMMA 2018, works pictured by Lucian Freud and Kathy Prendergast, photo: Justin Mac Innes

IMMA invited artist Daphne Wright to curate a new exhibition from the IMMA Collection: Freud Project. The resulting exhibition – The Ethics of Scrutiny – takes aspects of Freud’s intimate studio practice as a starting point to explore themes of vulnerability, longing and loss that permeate the painter’s work, while also looking to the works of other artists who address on a wider scale the complexities of representation. Works by Lucian Freud are exhibited alongside work by other artists including Emily Dickinson, Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dumas and John Berger.

As the exhibition draws to a close, we asked writer and researcher Sue Rainsford to sit down with Daphne and explore her curation of the exhibition in more detail.

Slow Looking & Porous Links in The Ethics of Scrutiny / Daphne Wright in conversation with Sue Rainsford

Sue: Ethics is something we think about in relation to the sciences, but not so readily in relation to the arts; why do you think that is? Why did you decide to include it in the title of the show?

Daphne: I think art has resisted ethics, and questions of ethics. Probably for reasons of censorship: we pride the arts as being more liberal. What I was thinking about with the show was the ethics of looking, the ethics of the gaze and visual inquiry, and I think at the moment these are questions that are really culturally prevalent: who’s allowed look at who?

With my own work, I think about the difference between scrutiny and examination: as art students, we’re provoked to look and to question, but then where’s the boundary? When have you gone across it?

I’ve questioned boundaries before. I made a piece called Primate (2009), a life-cast from a macaque primate that had been used in research, and there were so many restrictions involved in order to access and cast the body for a day – so many different levels of ethics involved in reproducing this primate. I thought, where are the boundaries about looking at this animal that’s already been examined scientifically? I ask those questions all the time in my work, and that’s something I recognise in Freud; he was always questioning and testing the boundaries.

Sue: It’s interesting to think of Freud as testing boundaries, rather than knowing what the boundaries were and zealously crossing them.

Daphne: I think Sigmund Freud dissecting the eels was a kind of testing, and then he was testing all the time through psychoanalysis. This is exactly the same as what Lucian Freud did: testing, sounding out… I think he wasn’t as bravado as people think.

IMMA Collection: Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright, Installtion view, IMMA 2018, work pictured by Sigmund Freud and Emily Dickinson, Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Sue: Freud’s biography has always played a prominent role, and can lead to quite circular conversations. His biography doesn’t dominate in The Ethics of Scrutiny, but it isn’t quarantined either, it’s one of several strands that are open and porous. Could you elaborate a bit on how you conducted your research, what links these strands and keeps them open?

Daphne: I seem to be on a quest all the time, and once I began to look at Freud I took the same approach to him as I would to any kind of quest; I just read everything I could find, to try and locate him.

Some of the connections are intuition, others are buried pieces of information that came alive. I think my approach is a mad dash of curiosity and inquiry, and then the rest is intuitive and emotional; sometimes they’re like backlashes against what I’ve read, dashes of curiosity in other directions.

I think links are strange: what forms them is a multitude of things.

IMMA Collection: Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright, Installation View, IMMA 2018, work pictured by Wiebke Siem, Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Sue: I thought the Wiebke Siem piece in this exhibition was such an expansive juxtaposition: the element of gender fluidity and performativity it introduces by referencing body masks, rituals where men use carved wooden pieces to dress up as female. It really complements Freud’s painterly analysis of ‘gendered flesh’.

Daphne: Yes, the reason I put Siem in this room with the Freud portrait (Woman in a Butterfly Jersey) is because, to me, the sitter could be male or female, and Siem looks at rituals of gender masquerading – of men wearing female masks and female body armour. She takes on the body, the outer body.

There’s a piece by Pauline Cummins, Inis t’Oírr: Aran Dance, that will be in the next show (IMMA Collection: Freud Project, Gaze), a piece where she looks at the body of a man wrapped in an Aran sweater from a female point of view. We discussed this work a lot, it had a big impact on me as a student, though in the end I decided not to use it because of logistics.

Sue: Did anything else come to the fore at the physical stage of installing?

Daphne: I struggled with the Alice Neel and the Marlene Dumas room, because the issues were really hard to deal with – the juxtapositions and how to handle them carefully.

Sue: Alice Neel’s work raises so many questions: what does it mean to look, what does it mean to be looked at.

Daphne: Yes. That room is so much about how to see and who’s allowed to see – these questions make the whole show quite hard to contain. Some of the issues are like starting points, and you could take any one of those lines and expand them into a full show.

IMMA Collection: Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright, Installation view, IMMA 2018, pictured is the work of Alice Neel, Photo: Marc O’Sullivan

Sue: So the individual pieces signify all the different avenues that you could go down with Freud and the idea of an ethics of scrutiny? Rather than create a single, quantifiable conversation that’s happening in the space?

Daphne: Yes. They’re like suggested starting points. I think with shows we sometimes go into galleries as consumers; we expect to leave having consumed. I think it’s very hard now make a show that doesn’t satisfy; that suggests you have to move very slowly. I think that’s such an important thing for us as viewers. And with Freud, the issues are so contentious and so problematic, they have to be consumed and considered slowly.

Sue: I suppose we now have a culture where reactivity is really prized, and linked to a very vibrant form of vocality or self-expression.

Daphne: I think there’s definitely been a change that has made way for an aggressive, consuming way of being.

Sue: I know the Habsburg Empire at Vienna was an important research point for you: a forward thinking culture that was thwarted. Do you think, if it had been allowed to thrive and not obliterated by the Nazi regime, that how we deal with one another and look at one another would be substantively different today?

Daphne: Whether that would have become a dominant culture or not I don’t know, but I think the pivotal thing about it was its approach to education and how nurturing it was… If it had become dominant I think we’d be in a totally different place. Maybe not, but I do think that a diverse culture and diverse links all feed into how we look to the future and to each other.

Sue: How do you see the show operating as one of multiple iterations of the Freud Project over the five year period at IMMA?

Daphne: I think the first exhibition was a strong showing of the collection that’s in Ireland. I think mine was a dismantling of it, and I would hope it’s opened and suggested different avenues. It’s not just about Freud and his painting, it’s about everything else that surrounds it, and him in context.

About the Author

Sue Rainsford is a writer and researcher based in Dublin. In October 2017, she commenced the IMMA Collection: Freud Project Residency at IMMA with Bridget O’Gorman, where they collaborated to respond to Lucian Freud’s assertion ‘I want the paint to feel like flesh’. Her debut novel, Follow Me To Ground, is available from New Island Books, and she was recently awarded a fellowship at The MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire.

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Frank Bowling, Middle Passage, 1970, Acrylic on canvas, 321 x 281 cm, Courtesy the Artist, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

Now showing at IMMA are two of the greatest painters of the 20th century, Frank Bowling and Lucian Freud. We invited Dr Nathan O’Donnell, currently IRC Enterprise Postdoctoral Research Fellow in connection with the IMMA Collection: Freud Project, to write on the relationship between Lucian Freud and Frank Bowling.

When Frank Bowling started out on his career as an artist in London – a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, originally from British Guiana – he was given early encouragement by the already well-established older painter Lucian Freud. Bowling’s graduating year included David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, who coined the term ‘the School of London’ to describe the cross-generational milieu of painters and sculptors operating in the city at this time, a network of mostly-figurative artists who, according to Kitaj (and many commentators since), shared much in common. Freud and Bowling would have interacted socially as well as professionally, not least at certain pubs and nightclubs they both frequented, including – for many years a principal haunt of Bowling’s – the King’s Arms on Fulham Road, not far from the RCA, known to all colloquially as ‘Finch’s’.

Bowling’s early work, like Freud’s, was figurative. ‘He’d go out of his way to encourage me’, Bowling said of Freud in a 2012 interview. ‘He’d often drop by – but that didn’t last much past the time I stopped doing figurative painting.’ Encouragement also came from Graham Sutherland and later from Francis Bacon, whose influence can be clearly detected in some of Bowling’s early work, though he had already begun to question aspects of Bacon’s work before leaving London, in 1967, for New York.

Freud may also have been interested in Bowling’s background, an emigrant like himself, from Bartica in British Guiana. Freud had an at least passing connection with the West Indies. He took a long soujourn with the socialite Ann Fleming at her home, Goldeneye, in Jamaica, where her husband Ian wrote the first James Bond novel; Freud also went on to produce a startling frontispiece for The Baths of Absolom (1954), an account by a British travel writer, James Pope-Hennessy, of his journey through the colonial infrastructure of the Windward Islands in the West Indies, taking in Dominica, Saint Lucia, and Martinique.

For both Bowling and Freud, London was a formative early influence. Freud thought of his arrival in the city, at the age of eleven, as a sort of homecoming. He considered England a place of gracious respite, a welcoming haven after his family’s anxious flight from Nazi Berlin. He seems to have felt a lifelong gratitude to the country. He received British citizenship in 1939, but in private he went further, describing himself, not just as British, but as English.

Frank Bowling, Mappa Mundi, 2018. Installation view IMMA. Photo: Sasko Lazarov.

Bowling arrived in London, two decades later, as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’. He was 19 when he arrived, in 1953, to stay with his maternal uncle in West Hampstead. He has described the mesmerising first experience of the Tube from Waterloo Station, the crowds of passengers raucous and euphoric, gripped by ‘coronation fever’. Like Freud, he says that ‘the moment I arrived in London, I knew I was home’.

Though they date mostly from the period after he left London for New York, the traces of his native Guiana in Bowling’s work – in particular the image of his mother’s shop, which becomes almost an ideogram, screen-printed like a large stamp in the background of his work from the 1960s on – would surely have had a particular resonance for Freud, whose relationship with his place of birth was likewise complex and ambivalent. In the early years of his career, Freud was repeatedly referred to by critics and commentators in terms of his ‘Germanness’, an appellation that must have stung, given his commitment to England, his sense of his own Englishness, not to mention his sustained hatred for the Germany of the Third Reich. Nevertheless in his work of the late 1940s he found himself reckoning with the influence of the great German painter, Albrecht Durer, prints of whose work adorned his family’s mantelpiece near the Tiergarten in Berlin when he was growing up. He may have renounced the place of his birth, but this does not entail a straightforward disavowal of his past.

A visitor views works by Lucian Freud in IMMA Collection: Freud Project, The Ethics of Scrutiny, curated by Daphne Wright. Photo: Marc O’Sullivan.

For his part, while his work was often openly and powerfully political, addressing the post-colonial legacies of black experience, Bowling has voiced ambivalence about the ways in which his work and that of his contemporaries has been classified as ‘Black Art’; in 1971 he wrote an important essay, responding to an exhibition of black artists, in which he made clear his reservations about how the specifics of an art work can be flattened or subsumed by the categorisation. Both Freud and Bowling’s work is thus, in different ways, troubled by the politics of identity, and how it plays out within the operations of the canon; both artists were informed by a complicated sense of cultural inheritance, racialised politics, and contested geographies.

After a brief number of years in the same milieu, Freud and Bowling’s work took different paths, Bowling moving into large scale abstraction (influenced by action painting, colour painting and collage), while Freud remained committed to representation throughout his career. Both artists, however, went on to spend many years painting, in relative obscurity, with single-minded dedication to their work, exploring – in different ways – the complicated interplays of nationhood, time, home, and memory.

Frank Bowling ‘s exhibition Mappa Mundi is on view until 8 July.

Lucian Freud’s work can be seen alongside the work of contemporary artists in the exhibition The Ethics of Scrutiny, curated by Daphne Wright until 2 September.

There is currently a special offer to see both shows for just €10 on the same day. Click here to book now. (discount will automatically be applied in your shopping cart)

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Ten years ago, Brian O’Doherty ‘buried hate’ on the grounds of IMMA when he laid his alter ego, Patrick Ireland, to rest in a semi-private wake and memorial service at the museum. Emer Lynch, Curatorial Assistant, Collections, IMMA reflects on the decade that has passed since The Burial of Patrick Ireland and the artist’s recent visit to IMMA where he was awarded the Freedom of Roscommon and officially opened the retrospective exhibition IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, now open at IMMA until 16 September 2018.

Brian O’Doherty at the launch of IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, Thursday 26th April 2018
Photography AlanJames Burns

Blog post by Emer Lynch, Curatorial Assistant, Collections, IMMA

On Thursday 26th April 2018, IMMA celebrated artist Brian O’Doherty with poise and

Brian O’Doherty viewing his Structural Plays series, produced in association with Stoney Road Press, during the launch of IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, Thursday 26th April 2018
Vowel Grid (2018), archival pigment print
On loan Stoney Road Press
Photography AlanJames Burns

warmth during the opening of his exhibition titled IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space. The extended display in the East Wing Galleries includes works from IMMA’s National Collection, combined with prints produced by the artist with Stoney Road Press, Brian O’Doherty, resident in New York since 1957, returned to Ireland last month to see the unveiling of ONE HERE NOW, a unique restoration project of an Ogham-inspired cycle of murals at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh led by director Miranda Driscoll. Indeed, the country celebrated the artist, who turned ninety on 4th May. Brian has indefatigable energy and his extended visit to Ireland included attending further events in his honour at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork and the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. At the opening of Brian O’Doherty Language and Space at IMMA, the taxi carrying Brian and his wife, art historian and artist, Barbara Novak, made a detour to the museum’s formal gardens. Brian and Barbara, hand-in-hand, headed directly to the limestone headstone set in the grass that marks The Burial of Patrick Ireland.

The story behind this unassuming resting place of Patrick Ireland really begins in 1972. After the Derry massacre that year, the artist Brian O’Doherty undertook to sign his artworks under the name Patrick Ireland, until the British military presence was removed from Northern Ireland and all citizens were granted their civil rights. In 2008, these conditions fulfilled and ten years having passed since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Patrick Ireland’s existence was terminated through the performance The Burial of Patrick Ireland. The wake at IMMA was performed not only by the artist, but by official mourners including celebrant Michael Rush; pallbearers Robert Ballagh, Jeanette Doyle, Brian Duggan, Joe Stanley, Brendan Earley and Fergus Byrne; poetry read at the graveside by Anne Haverty for Anthony Cronin, Ingmar Lahnemann for Hans Belting, Anne-Marie Bonnet, Enrique Juncosa and Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith; and music performed by Eoin Dillon, Steve Larkin, Seighean O’Draoi, Frank Tate and Graham Watson. Alanna O’Kelly’s presence as keener was spine-tingling on the deceptively bright but cold May afternoon. As an effigy of Patrick Ireland, placed inside the white coffin, was lowered into the grave, Brian O’Doherty proclaimed, “We are burying hate…in a ceremony of reconciliation celebrating peace in Northern Ireland”.

L – R: Barbara Novak, Christina Kennedy, Brian O’Doherty and Dr. Boris Hars-Tschachotin viewing Lament for Patrick Ireland (2010) directed by Sé Merry Doyle, Loopline Film. Photography AlanJames Burns

After IMMA’s exhibition launch last month, ten peaceful years after his symbolic performance, Brian O’Doherty viewed Sé Merry Doyle’s documentary Lament for Patrick Ireland in the gallery. It was a poignant moment shared with wife Barbara, friend Dr. Boris Hars-Tschachotin, IMMA’s Senior Curator: Head of Collections, Christina Kennedy, Curatorial Assistant Emer Lynch, IMMA’s Visitor Engagement Team and members of the public. The event was a reminder of the gravity of the meaning of O’Doherty’s political performances, such as the creation of Patrick Ireland in the first instance, and Ireland’s journey to peace that thankfully rendered Patrick Ireland’s identity obsolete.

L – R: Senior Curator: Head of Collections, Christina Kennedy, artist Brian O’Doherty and Prof. Luke Gibbons during the launch of IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, Thursday 26th April 2018
Photography AlanJames Burns
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