Dublin – Temple Bar Gallery + Studios and the Irish Museum of Modern Art

—>Andrea visits two contemporary art spaces in Dublin and sees some highly conceptual art –the Artblog editors———————->

Starting Over at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios (June 21 – Aug. 24, 2013) is a dense and highly thought-out exhibition of work that will amply reward visitors, even those unable to connect all of the dots. It is somewhat like those Chinese puzzles of one carved sphere within another, which is inside yet another, and my own understanding was greatly enriched by a long conversation with Mark O’Kelly, an artist who curated the exhibition and who has a studio in the facility. The exhibition commemorates the thirty year life of the not-for-profit studio and exhibition space that was given a face-lift twenty years ago as part of the re-fashioning of Temple Bar, a formerly-neglected, riverfront neighborhood in central Dublin.

Recent works by Alan Brooks, Gerard Byrne, Tacita Dean, and Scott Myles

'Starting Over' installation view, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios
‘Starting Over’ installation view, work by Gerard Byrne and Alan Brooks, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios,

O’Kelly asked Alan Brooks, Gerard Byrne, Tacita Dean and Scott Myles to contribute not only recent work, but earlier works that had particular significance to their artistic development. In my experience, I told O’Kelly, artists were typically interested only in their current work. While acknowledging that, he said earlier work was inevitably part of an artist’s history, and hoped that asking the artists to re-visit previous interests might generate provocative ideas.

'Starting Over' installation view, Gerard Byrne r., Tacita Dean l. Temple Bar Gallery and Studios
‘Starting Over’ installation view,work by Alan Brooks, Gerard Byrne, Tacita Dean. Temple Bar Gallery and Studios

One of the more visible and intriguing themes was that of translation or re-working of imagery – some from the artist’s personal interests, experience or previous work, other images known from art history, still others anonymous graffitti. O’Kelly was also interested in the transition artworks make when moved from the artist’s studio to the public space of an exhibition.

'Starting Over' mirrored fragment of earlier Gerard Byrne installation, Scott Miles behind
‘Starting Over’ mirrored fragment of earlier Gerard Byrne installation in foreground, Brooks, Miles, Brooks behind

Tacita Dean contributed Sixteen Blackboards (1992), a work which the artist had thought lost, and not previously exhibited. It is a photographic documentation of sequential drawings and notations made on a single, huge blackboard. Each drawing replaced the previous one, rather like William Kentredge’s drawings re-worked for purposes of animation. The journal-like texts and drawings incorporate subjects and imagery of the body (foot, breasts), religion (St. Agatha) and mythology (the Oedipus story) to Manet’s Dejuner sur l’Herbe, many of which continue to interest her. Dean also returned to the medium of chalk on blackboard with Fatigues (created for Documenta 13 in 2012 and recently shown in New York), a monumental cycle illustrating snow-covered, mountain landscapes in Afghanistan, which included occasional, written notes.

Gerard Byrne 'The beheading of John the Baptist' (2013) selenium toned silver gelatin print, 89 x 78.5 cm, © the artist
Gerard Byrne ‘The beheading of John the Baptist’ (2013) selenium toned silver gelatin print, 89 x 78.5 cm, © the artist

Gerard Byrne was interested in an earlier work he had made as a commission in another building rehabbed in Temple Bar in the 1990s. He inset plexiglass and mirrored panels into the walls and ceilings, subtle adjustments to the architecture that challenged the building’s occupants to account for them. He and O’Kelly discovered one of the surviving mirrored panels, removed it, and hung it on a wide plinth in the gallery, where it is an equal challenge to understand. A label and an installation photo on he back of the plinth are helpful for viewers diligent enough to find it.

'Starting Over' Scott Miles l., Gerard Byrne
‘Starting Over’ Scott Miles l., Gerard Byrne

The recent work Byrne is exhibiting returns to a previous subject: a 2008 photograph of the back of a seventeenth-century painting that was itself a trompe l’oeil, whose subject was the back of a painting. The four silver gelatin prints exhibited here were recent images of the reverses of four other old master paintings with religious and allegorical subjects, each revealed in the work’s title. The images of their backs emphasize the insistent, physical underpinnings to the illusory scenes evoked by the painters’ craft. I admit to a particular interest in the backs of paintings because they can reveal aspects of the work’s physical history (replaced stretchers, evidence of relining and inventory information are visible here) that may be invisible on the face. Byrne and I seem to share an interest in artworks as objects as well as visual ideas. The pervasive distrust of the reliability of photography as documentation raises yet another conundrum I’ll leave to each viewer.

Alan Brooks 'Figure' (2008) oil on copper, 10 x 8 cm, © the artist, photo: MOT International
Alan Brooks ‘Figure’ (2008) oil on copper, 10 x 8 cm, © the artist photo: MOT International

Alan Brooks chose a series of diminutive works in acrylic on post-it paper from 2004, and a more recent group (2005-10) of small works on paper and two on copper painted with acrylic and oil. All are translations of graffitti’d imagery he found in the streets. They are crude and sometimes lewd at a distance. Only close viewing reveals the microscopic (literally) density of hidden glyphs Brooks painted to transform adolescent markings into extraordinarily detailed and obsessively beautiful artworks. It is impossible, with photographs or words, to convey the endless complexity and variation that Brooks invented, or the surprise, delight, and wonder they evoke.

'Starting Over' installation view, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios
‘Starting Over’ installation view, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios

The earlier work Scott Miles selected consists of two large headshots of himself in a desert landscape in the American Southwest: Everything in Between, Dundee, Scotland, Oct. 2, 1996, and Everything in Between, Monument Valley, USA, Mar. 23, 1998. Presented as a single piece, one is clearly a variant of the other. It turns out that more than two years separates them. The earlier one is a snapshot of the artist, taken in front of a billboard (I can imagine the Marlborough man just out of sight). Miles tracked down the original location where the billboard was shot and re-staged the photograph in the actual landscape. None of this back story is revealed by visual comparison. But the effort involved, attention to the unintended, and the inside nature of the visual joke were clearly important for Miles’ later work.

The Lecture (2010-13) includes one of Felix Gonzales-Torres’ posters from a stack of give-aways. Miles took up the gesture of generosity and used the reverse for his own drawing, which he placed within two pieces of plexi. On the side of the painted reverse he added further paint to the plexi, creating a layered image. The sandwiched poster is exhibited so it can be viewed from both sides. Miles here acknowledges the long-term influence of Gonzalez-Torres’ work in the most literal way.

Willie Doherty 'Secretion' (2012) still from a 20-min. video
Willie Doherty ‘Secretion’ (2012) still from a 20-min. video © the artist

Willie Doherty’s Secretion at IMMA

The Irish Museum of Modern Art  (IMMA) is currently showing two exhibitions at the National Concert Hall (through Sept. 13, 2013) while its main facility is is undergoing restoration. I knOw yoU consists of work by more than fifty artists, curated by IMMA staff with the artist Tobias Rehnberger and Nikolas Hirsch, Director of the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. They selected 27 artists who then chose the other participants (some as collaborators, some independently, others by citation), not all of them visual artists.

Dhan Vo 'Looty' (2013) color gravure
Dhan Vo ‘Looty’ (2013) color gravure  © the artist, photo: Marian Goodman Gallery

The work presents a reasonable selection of the variety of work being done by an international group of artists whose commonality is a conceptual background and generally an interest in social and philosophical ideas. Work includes photography, photocopies, video, sculpture made of scavenged materials and mixed media, and installations of the above. There were also three painters, two doing non-objective work.

The work addresses history, storytelling, historical simulations, colonialism, racism, folk traditions, identity, criticism of capitalism and globalization, and failed utopias, among other subjects. The artists cite earlier documents and artworks as well as a number of thinkers, none of them unfamiliar (Marx, Benjamin, Irigaray). There is a general distrust of verbal rhetoric along with a yearning for its power to convince. Among the memorable works were Danh Vo‘s concise but miulti-layered Looty, Tris_Vonna-Mitchell‘s A Watermark: Capitol Complex, a narrative slide show set in Chandigarh, and Tomas Saraceno‘s D Cloud Module, an elegant spider-web-like structure constructed within a lecture theater.

IMMA is also exhibiting Willie Dogherty‘s 20 min. video,Secretion (2012). IMMA describes it as a site-specific installation, but since it was commissioned for Documenta 13 and is shown in a black box, I can’t figure out why. As beautifully-shot as all of Dogherty’s work, it continues his interest in landscape that is profoundly, if invisibly, marked by politics and conflict.