American Post-War Art at IMMA (Dublin, Ireland)

American Post-War Art: The Novak/O’Doherty Collection
Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA)
8 September 2010 – 27 February 2011

George Segal
An exhibition of 76 artworks by many of America’s leading post-war artists gifted to the IMMA Collection by art historian Barbara Novak and artist Brian O’Doherty / Patrick Ireland opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 8 September 2010. Post-War American Art: The Novak/O’Doherty Collection, donated in association with the American Ireland Fund, comprises paintings and sculpture and an extensive range of works on paper, including watercolours, drawings, photographs and limited edition prints and multiples. Works by Joseph Cornell, Dan Graham, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and a host of other celebrated artists are included in the exhibition.

The donation is particularly rich in works from New York of the 1960s and ‘70s; many the result of friendships with outstanding artists from that milieu. We can imagine the lives of Barbara Novak and Brian O’Doherty over 50 years – they married in 1960 – through these paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures and prints. Many works were swops with other artists or tokens of friendship, inscribed with dedications or personal notes; others reflect their ongoing exchanges and correspondence through postcards and letters, such as the postcards sent by Sol LeWitt over the years incorporating sketches. Still other works were gifts, while some were purchased. Through them we see that Barbara Novak and Brian O’Doherty were central figures in the art community of the 1960s and ‘70s and beyond.

Four important works, by Edward Hopper, Marcel Duchamp, George Segal and Jasper Johns, were gifted in 2009. The forthcoming exhibition celebrates the arrival of the balance of their collection to IMMA. Other artists represented in the collection include Christo, Mel Bochner, William Scharf, Peter Hutchinson, Les Levine, Sonja Sekula, John Coplans, Arnold Newman, and Elise Asher. Some works were included in the recent exhibition Vertical Thoughts: Morton Feldman and the Visual Arts – appropriate since the composer Morton Feldman was a close of friend of the donors.

Born in New York, Barbara Novak is an enormously influential art historian as well as artist and novelist. She is the author of American Painting of the Nineteenth Century, Nature and Culture and Voyages of the Self, recently published as a trilogy on American art and culture by Oxford University Press. She joined the art history department of Barnard College and Columbia University in 1958 and retired as Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor Emerita in 1998. A chaired professorship at Barnard College was named in her honour.

Born in Ballaghadereen, Co Roscommon, Brian O’Doherty variously exhibited in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and in the RHA and Oireachtas exhibitions from 1950 to 1956. He moved to the United States in 1957, where he became a pioneer in the development of Conceptual Art and also a renowned writer and critic. He has had several retrospectives, most recently in New York University’s Grey Gallery. His work has been seen in Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and Rosc. He is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The influence of his ground-breaking collection of essays Inside the White Cube continues.

Commenting on the gift, Christina Kennedy, Head of Collections, said:

‘As IMMA approaches its 20th anniversary in 2011, it is its great good fortune to be the recipient of a most generous gift of artworks from the personal collection of Brian O’Doherty and Barbara Novak. Their gift to IMMA fulfills a longstanding wish of Brian O’Doherty, supported by Barbara Novak, to provide Irish artists and audiences with a collection of modern American art. While there are individual works by American artists in the Collection, the gift launches a whole new area of collecting and focus for IMMA, expanding its horizons to include an immensely rich seam of American art.

This donation cements an already important relationship: not only has IMMA in recent years acquired two superb examples of the artist’s Conceptualist work, even more powerfully since 2008 it is the location of The Burial of Patrick Ireland. Patrick Ireland was an identity which Brian O’Doherty assumed, in a performance enacted in 1972 called Name Change, whereby as a gesture of patriotic protest at the Bloody Sunday killings of 13 civil rights marchers, he pledged to sign his artwork Patrick Ireland “until such time as the British military presence is removed from Northern Ireland and all citizens are granted their civil rights.” Thirty-six years later, in 2008, in a remarkable ceremony, an effigy of Patrick Ireland was interred in the formal gardens at IMMA, in a ceremony of reconciliation celebrating peace in Northern Ireland.’

IMMA’s Collection comprises more than 4,500 works in a wide range of media, having grown significantly, through purchases, donations, long-term loans and the commissioning of new works. It is shown in themed exhibitions at IMMA, and also throughout Ireland via the Museum’s unique National Programme. The presence of IMMA’s Collection abroad has increased substantially in recent years, with large-scale exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai, China, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago, United States, St John’s, Newfoundland, and San Sebastian, Spain, plus numerous loans of individual works to museums and galleries worldwide.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustated catalogue, with a contextualising comment by Brian O’Doherty and individual insights on almost all of the works by both donors; an introductory essay by Christina Kennedy and a foreword by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA.

Irish Museum of Modern Art