Monday, May 04, 2009

A Visit to IMMA

IMMA: what a wonderful resource for Dublin. One of the few things our Government got right. If you never go in to look at the art you can visit and enjoy the wonderful landscaped gardens - ideal for fractious children to burn off energy on those long weekends. We pay a visit to see the Hughie O'Donoghue show and to take in the Bank of Ireland bequest and the Seamus Heaney show, and we discover on the way in the added bonus of some Alexander Calder. Enrique Juncosa's reign has encompassed some preciousness and some political decisions but he's hit the spot with this lot.

With Le Brocquy atrophying and Blackshaw waning, it's clear that O'Donoghue is our pre-eminent living artist. And I suspect that history's jury will find in his favour also. He works on a scale that few Irish artists have attempted. Some of the pieces in this show are so big that IMMA cannot accommodate them sympathetically - there's one (An Anatomy of Melancholy IV) that's a whopping 10 feet by 20 feet. Like Shakespeare there's something for everyone in O'Donoghue. For those who feel insecure around abstraction there are the figurative elements - both painted and photographic: usually bodies, dead, adrift, or asleep. For the sniffers after the numinous, there's the big encounter a la Rothko and the emphasis on death and evanescence. For the artist and art buff there's the technique: the varnish, the matt, the layers of paint, the photographs encompassed, the newspapers painted over, the thematic coherence. There is an absolutely riveting video of the way he develops his work, the building up of layer upon layer, the going back and rejigging it, the use of photographs, the care and craft. It's a relentlessly elegiac show that will linger long in the mind's eye.

The Heaney show features a lot of prosaic art (Martin Gale's work is the exception) but some great manuscripts of Heaney's poems that make you want to go back and read more of the great man - one about a first encounter particularly struck me. The Bank of Ireland show is a disappointment, apart from a late Yeats' and an exquisite early William Scott of a young girl.