Why twenty deserves its personal touch


A new exhibition at Imma to celebrate the museum’s 20th anniversary showcases the work of 20 artists and offers a selective snapshot of Irish art

THE MODERNS, a landmark exhibition for Imma, looked back to a major part of the 20th century as Irish art and culture embraced modernity to a greater or lesser extent.

Now, marking the museum’s 20th anniversary, Twentyaims to look to the recent past and the present moment, giving an idea of where Irish art is now. Or perhaps that should be a selective snapshot of where Irish art is now, because 20 artists do not a substantial survey make.

The artists are mostly – though not all or necessarily – Irish and not necessarily based here. They are “younger-generation Irish and international artists, whose work is increasingly prominent in the global visual arts arena”. In the event, and without being ageist, the term “younger” is stretched towards mid-career, for example with the inclusion of Perry Ogden. He’s an estimable figure and an asset to any exhibition, but in this context he seems simply out of place. “Younger-generation” proves a malleable term.

Perhaps Ogden’s inclusion provides a clue about the actual nature of the show. It was curated by Enrique Juncosa, whose term as Imma’s director comes to an end later this summer. Twentydefinitely has the air of not being an attempt to identify the 20 most significant Irish artists currently active; it’s much more a personal selection. Most of the work included has been recently acquired, with departmental funding. It may not be the intention, but one gets the feeling that what we’re seeing is more or less a group of Juncosa’s own discoveries made during his highly successful tenure as director, and that is no bad thing.

While there are many recent purchases included, one of the largest displays, Seán Lynch’s De Lorean Progress Reportis borrowed from the artist and virtually a complete solo show in itself. Lynch researches, revivifies and elucidates the byways and cul-de-sacs of Irish cultural history. His De Lorean odyssey is a fascinating piece of work worth spending time with. It includes specially made panels of the ill-fated car and traces the original panel-pressing machinery to its watery end.

Katie Holten’s 137.5/It started on the C traindid start as a piece of crochet on the C train in New York and then, in line with and as an expression of her nomadic lifestyle, it grew incrementally as she progressed from one cultural event to the next in eastern Europe. Her work is generally informal and slightly alternative, looking to patterns and connections outside the mainstream. It is, in other words, rhizomatic – in the words of cultural theorists Deleuze and Guittari. Holten’s piece spreads and grows in the manner of a plant species finding a niche and expanding exponentially in a new slice of terrain.

Holten notes that, when the work was originally shown in Dublin, at the Temple Bar Gallery, she was on an artists’ residency at Imma. The residency programme is a recurring feature in the artists’ CVs, and it’s been a vital strand of the museum’s activities. Niamh O’Malley was participating when she made her The Memorial Gardensin 2008.

Shot in the War Memorial Garden in Islandbridge and projected on to a prepared screen imprinted with a related image (a hallmark of O’Malley’s method), it’s an elegiac, ghostly work with a meditative mood strikingly reminiscent of Alain Resnais’s Last Year in Marienbad.

Paddy Jolley’s Hereafter(2004) made with Rebecca Trost and Lise Inger Hansen (among others), was commissioned by Ballymun Regeneration. In an abandoned tower block, the furniture and other detritus of human habitation come to life as the building and its stories appear to implode.

There’s usually a dystopian, uncanny note to Jolley’s work – and this 11-minute black and white film is no exception. Though we’ve heard little of him lately, he is due to feature in Dublin Contemporary and is the subject of a projected, substantial retrospective show at the Limerick City Gallery next year.

Nevan Lahart is an anarchic critical voice who uses satirical humour in rough hewn-looking – but actually precisely and meticulously made – paintings and sculptures. Fergus Feehily’s elegantly reductive aesthetic has won him a growing, appreciative audience. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald pursues abstract picture-making at a very high level. Eva Rothschild’s sculpture, Stalker, stalks the gallery space with its typically angular, probing presence. Stephen Brandes’s huge lino drawing maps a European diaspora.

There are substantial installations by Nina Cannell, Alan Phelan and Garrett Phelan. Others not so far mentioned are John Gerrard, David Godbold, Willie McKeown and Niamh McCann, a relative newcomer.

The selection does usefully highlight some underrated artists including Liam O’Callaghan, whose dazzling installation Chaos and Dreams Yet to Cometypifies his inventiveness with materials, and Orla Barry, who has made intriguing film and performance works that ambitiously combine visual, literary and theatrical values in dealing with memory, identity and relationships (her The Scavenger’s Daughterslaunched the recent performance season at Imma).

A sizeable proportion of the artists included, like many of their contemporaries, are based primarily or partly abroad. This is not in response to recent economic difficulties, instead a trend that has been gradually increasing, usually for positive reasons. There’s John Gerrard, who spends some of the time in Vienna, Patrick Michael Fitzgerald in the north of Spain, Corban Walker in New York, Orla Barry in Belgium, Fergus Feehily in Germany, Eva Rothschild in London – and so on. What ultimately impresses about the show is the cumulative richness of texture: virtually every piece calls for slow, considered engagement and rewards attention.

Twentyruns until October 31st at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. See modernart.ie or tel: 01-6129900