Postwar American Art, Irish Museum of Modern Art

The Novak/O’Doherty Collection






Rotoreliefs (Optical Disks) 1953

Marcel Duchamp - Rotoreliefs (Optical Disks) 1953






This show culminates quite a wonderful story: Brian O’Doherty, a teenager living in Bray in the 1940s, then later as  a medical student at UCD, had to educate himself in the visual arts at the time, as there was a great lack of access and exposure to many artistic trends and knowledge, for students and for the general public in Ireland (with some notable exceptions, of course). He did so by visiting galleries and gradually collecting books. He also began his own art practice, and  writing about art for various reviews, on new exhibitions that were arriving in Ireland. He commited himself that at some point or other, he would rectify this lack of artistic exposure.

He left Ireland in 1957 to continue his medical studies in the US, and there changed  to a full-time career steeped in art practice (both he and his partner Barbara Novak, have produced beautiful work), writing, curation and facilitating gatherings with a whole range of visual artists, poets and so on.

Additionally, he and Barbara Novak built on the friendships they were making with various figurative, conceptual and pop artists and  began a whole range of exchanges and swops (including everything from complete works, to postcards and diaries) with Ellsworth Kelly, Edward Hopper, George Segal, Marcel Duchamp, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Les Levine, Sol Lewitt, and MANY more.

The show (in the IMMA annexe), therefore includes not only his own works, but also those of the above mentioned.

The works in this show have also been bequeathed to IMMA. What we have here is a unique insight into the mind of someone who has always had a great love for his native land and has wanted it to flourish creatively. The fact that it now does (despite the current economic challenges), is partly a testament to his work and great commitment.

In parallel, we are able to understand a particular perspective of what was happening creatively and culturally in this period.

There is also a well produced catalogue with excellent images.

Where to start? I’ll only mention a few, although virtually everything is world-class.






Hatteras 1963

Jasper Johns - Hatteras 1963






Edward Hopper’s beautiful double-sided nude charcoal drawing from 1920, Jasper John’s pictured lithograph Hatteras from 1963; powerful imagery using stencilled words (the three primary colours), strong mark making and a real attention to process.

Wolf Kahn’s beautiful and direct pastel on paper landscape from 2000, Sea Blue, James Rosenquist’s Miles from 1975, a tight silkscreen and airbrush explosion of colours and symbolism, George Segal’s cast of Barbara Novak’s face mounted on salvaged segments of a door and wood frame, from 1993.

Marcel Duchamp’s pictured Rotoreliefs (Optical Disks) from 1953. This is a set of 12 colour lithographed disks, in a plastic holder, first produced in 1935. Six of the disks are displayed on turntables set at 33rpm. We are instructed to view the spinning disks with one eye closed, thereby maximising the effect.

Don’t forget to head to the back of the main galleries, just by the gardens, where you can see the simple monument  and record of the burial of Patrick Ireland, Brian O’Doherty’s alter-ego, who was laid to rest in 2008.






Manie Jellet

Manie Jellet






Finally, I only managed to catch a bit of the newly-opened Moderns show in the main galleries. This is rather larger and more unwieldy (didn’t have time to get through it all), but the sheer breadth of the show is absolutely stunning. They have every important Irish artist, architect and designer from 1900 to 1975 represented, so you’ll see works by Mainie Jellett, Francis Bacon, Evie Hone, Louis Le Brocqy, Eileen Gray and so many more.  Stunning historical photos, including the early 20th century and the 1960s, postcards, book design, architecture, film, music scores, music and film, and lots of painting and sculpture. This is really an important, lovingly curated slice of history and culture.

These are, simply, knock-out shows, and they are free!! Miss at your peril.

Signal Arts Newsletter of January – March 2011

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