Imma’s identity crisis?


A chara, – Hugh Linehan lets himself go a little bit in his rant against the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s (Imma) programme launched this weekend to mark its 30th anniversary (“Imma’s relentlessly on-message programme highlights its identity crisis”, Culture, July 31st).

Apparently, he finds its “relentlessly on-message progressivism” deeply dispiriting and like “being trapped for a very long time in the worst transition year project ever”.

According to him, it is “hopelessly in thrall to an instrumentalised theory of creative expression” and argues that it should instead focus more on art produced by “reactionaries and social pessimists”.

He characterises its long list of progressive themes – the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the provision of divorce, marriage equality, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, climate change, disruption of the social fabric, decolonisation, protest and conflict– as little more than a progressive “box-ticking exercise” and goes on to lament that the programme doesn’t deal with art’s role as a salve to the consciences of obscenely rich US capitalists who have obtained their wealth by dubious means, and that it doesn’t discuss the inherent contradiction in housing modern art in a museum in a grand historic building.

This is whataboutery at its best. It would be wonderful if Imma’s collection were housed in a Guggenheim-style dedicated modern building, but such funds have never been available to Imma.

What the programme does do is showcase some of the best work by internationally recognised Irish artists over the past 30 years.

Hugh Linehan says that it is hypocritical, ridiculous, and faintly absurd that Imma, as a State-funded body, should try to position itself as a “platform for resistance against the hegemony of the establishment and the status quo”, but do we not have many other galleries and museums containing art by “reactionaries and social pessimists”, and should the State not support work by progressive artists as well as conservatives?

Is society not to be allowed to reinvent and transform itself, and must the State always throw its weight against the democratically expressed wishes of the people?

Hugh Linehan’s rant reads like a cri de coeur against wokeism, but should we not celebrate the fact that at least one State institution is not entirely wedded to maintaining the status quo, difficult as that may be for a State-funded body?

It is not Imma that is having an identity crisis, but those who wish to oppose progressive change by all means possible. – Is mise,



Co Wicklow.