A poet’s eye for the erotics of art
The essays Enrique Juncosa wrote during his nine years as director of IMMA reveal a glittering mind
Former IMMA director Enrique Juncosa, and artist Katie Holten, installing a piece entitled 137.5 degrees. Photograph: Dave Meehan
There was a rumour that he was a poet, and that he had come to Ireland with many thousands of books. He was living in a house in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. As he was Mallorcan and it was winter, he must notice the cold, I thought. Then I heard that he did not know before he came to Ireland that there could be cold like ours – the damp insinuating cold, with frost in the morning, a cold that lasts for months and gets into your bones and wearies your spirit. It would not have helped, I thought, that there were so many bare dripping trees around the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It was not a natural habitat for someone brought up on an island in the Mediterranean.
To be from the island is to know how both to absorb and to withstand the outside world. Mallorca is a very conservative society, with an upper middle class, or an owner class, that has retained its power and its holdings with considerable care, having built them up over a number of centuries. It is easy to imagine the consternation that Joan Miró must have caused on the island. Not only was his work uncompromising, his iconography almost private and childlike, when it was not dark and public, but he had made his left-wing credentials plain when he showed work in the same pavilion as Picasso showed Guernica. As the second World War broke out, he took a great risk in coming back from France into Catalonia. He was warned by a friend, however, not to dream of going to Barcelona. Instead, with his wife, Pilar Juncosa, and their daughter, he travelled to her native Mallorca. He remained there for the rest of his life, quietly working. Mallorca took him in and rescued him. Pilar Juncosa was the sister of Enrique Juncosa’s grandfather.
The first thing I noticed about Enrique Juncosa when I met him was his good humour. He smiled when I mentioned the cold, in the same way he would smile over the routine matters, large and small, sent to try him during his nine years as director. He found things odd or amusing or funny. He knew a great deal, but he wore his knowledge lightly, and it was fascinating to watch as his knowledge of Irish art, for example, began to increase.
He cared deeply about Imma’s collection, realising that even if the museum did not have enough space during his time to show all the work it wanted to show, it might well have more space in the future. During his period as director the permanent collection thus increased enormously, and it began to include some of the best work done by Irish artists since the 1940s, as well as work by international artists. This might seem part of the normal job of any director, but it was done in a time when museums and curators were questioning the very idea of a collection, and were openly discussing deacquisition as part of their function. In the strange world of the modern art museum, the idea of the institution as a custodian of work to be enjoyed by generations in the future was being dismissed as hierarchical, old-fashioned and a waste of time.
In Ireland, Enrique Juncosa immersed himself in the work not only of Irish artists of international repute but also of figures he began to admire, such as Charles Brady and Cecil King, both of whom had died in the previous decade or so, and whose work appeared in Dublin auction rooms, but whose reputations were uncertain. I remember once taking Enrique through a list of Irish artists, most of them unknown outside Ireland. With each artist, Enrique could pinpoint the works by that artist that were in the Imma collection, and he could remember who had donated a work, or what funds had been used to buy it.