Irish Museum of Modern Art

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Gallery Voices: Visitors to Patrick Hennessy’s exhibition discover how unusual he was for an Irish artist of his time

In the next blog of our Gallery Voices series Olive Barrett, from our Visitor Engagement Team, gives us an insight into how visitors to the exhibition Patrick Hennessy De Profundis are surprised with how talented, skilled and forward thinking Hennessy actually was.


Main image Men bathing, Étretat, c. 1954, Installation view Patrick Hennesy De Profundis IMMA 2016. Photo Jed Niezgo

The Patrick Hennessy exhibition, De Profundis, showing in the East Wing Galleries since March this year is now in its final week ending this Sunday 24 July. For many visitors to the gallery this is the first time that they have experienced Hennessy’s work and many people are of the opinion that the work is unusual for an Irish artist of his time. Patrick Hennessy was born in Cork in 1915, educated in Scotland and worked for a time under the Cubist master Fernandez Legér after winning a scholarship to Paris in 1937. The main perception from the public is that he was an artist and painter who had been forgotten about and had not readily received the acclaim that he deserved in a National Institution until now.

Hennessy_Self_Portrait_Figures_NGI (2)

Patrick Hennessy, Portrait-Figures (Self-Portrait), 1972, oil on canvas, 101.5 x 127 cm, National Gallery of Ireland Collection, Photo © National Gallery of Ireland, Photography courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland.

The admiration for his work is obvious as one is present in any one of the four rooms or along the main corridor of the exhibition. For those who were familiar with the artist’s work, they had never realised how prolific a painter he was, the high skill level and execution of his subject matter or the diverse and avant-garde manner in which he painted. Hennessy was also a gay artist who openly expressed his sexuality in his work when it was not commonplace to do so and when it was in fact illegal in the state to be gay. This has been significant to many visitors not only artistically, culturally and socially but also regarding equality in light of the recent marriage equality referendum and rights for the LGBT communities. Viewers have been overheard saying that they had not realised the symbolism surrounding the wearing of a red tie to signify male interest and sexual orientation as is seen in the paintings, Portrait-Figures (Self Portrait), 1972, and the recent addition to the exhibition, Portrait of a Young Man. People have found this fascinating and have commented that this provides an almost alternative language to the work while also telling Hennessy’s own personal life story. Questions have arisen around the artist’s depiction of women in his portrait painting and of how his male subjects are painted in a much more sympathetic and physical manner.


From left Two nuns walking on a beach (The Seven Sisters), 1948, in background The Angel of the Annunciation, 1953, Installation view Patrick Hennesy De Profundis IMMA 2016. Photo Jed Niezgoda

Rooms two, three and four have fascinated the public Continue reading

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Curator’s Voice : Patrick Hennessy and the power of artworks to connect with personal experience

In the most recent installment of our Curator’s Voice series, IMMA Curator Seán Kissane observes how his own relationship with artworks in the exhibition Patrick Hennessy De Profundis has changed over the course of the show and how conversations with visitors, peers and friends has resulted in some powerful and compelling responses to the emotional subject matter of the paintings.


Hennessy_Sean Alone

Patrick Hennessy, Seán Alone, 1977, oil on canvas, 38.1 x 60.9 cm, Private Collection

One of the most rewarding aspects of curating an exhibition is observing the ways in which one’s relationship with individual works changes over the course of the show. The conversations one has with visitors, peers and friends constantly challenge and enrich the interpretations that may have been formed in the course of research. The Patrick Hennessy show has been no exception. As it deals with emotional subject matters like sexual orientation, psychological alienation and coming out; some of the responses I’ve heard have been powerful and compelling. One quiet little work in particular has provoked much discussion. By co-incidence it is entitled Seán Alone and Hennessy painted it shortly before he died. It shows an adolescent boy sitting by the side of a canal, looking after a pile of clothes as his friends swim boisterously in the water. I had always seen this image as representing psychological isolation, although he is surrounded by his peers, the title tells us that the protagonist is alone. I imagined Seán’s thought processes, his awareness of his difference and how the weight of that gradually increased over time to that point at which it became unbearable and his journey of coming-out would begin.

During the exhibition other gay men have read the work in more physical and literal ways. They focused on the fact that Seán remains fully-clothed as his friends went swimming. One man said this resonated with him, because as a teenager he didn’t like to take off his clothes. He was attracted to one of his close friends and was ashamed that he couldn’t control the unwelcome responses of his body – added to this his ‘response’ might have had negative consequences. Another man described how as a teenager he was very thin. He didn’t like to show his body because he thought that somehow his ‘weak’ body betrayed him, that his other ‘weakness’ would be revealed. At our recent seminar, Sexuality, Identity and the State some of these ideas were teased out by a number of psychoanalysts who responded to Hennessy’s images. As a reflection of their professional practice, they looked for emotional insights in the faces of his sitters, and in particular their eyes. The analysts saw various things, from pain through to suppressed anger in his portraits. Seán Alone was singled out as although he has his back to the viewer, there is still a palpable sense of exclusion and alienation to be discerned in the way he holds his body.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_ Wanderer above the sea of fog, 1818

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

Seeing a figure from behind comes from the German sublime tradition of the Rückenfigur, most familiar from Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). Friedrich was the prime exponent of the German Romantic Style, the foundations of which were laid by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Essentially a reaction against the pure rationalism of the Enlightenment, they created a philosophy that integrated emotion and sensuality with an awareness of God and his creation. Rousseau argued that ethics emerged from the emotions – not reason or morals. His famous quote ‘Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains’, expresses the idea that man is inherently good and compassionate, but corrupted by society.


Patrick Hennessy, from left Seán Alone, 1977, Boy and Pony, Killarney, 1968, and Lake Island, c.1965, Installation view Irish Museum of Modern Art. Photo Jed Niezgoda

Hennessy’s use of this Romantic convention points in two directions. All men are good, all are created in God’s image, and the private beliefs of a citizen do not preclude them from participation in society. The use of the Rückenfigur as a device has the function of activating the viewer; we see the world through the protagonist’s perspective and we empathise with his experience. In many ways Hennessy was ahead of his time. Before the contemporary language around ‘coming out of the closet’ was in general use, he was perceptive and sensitive to the nuances of self-awareness and his characters are shown undergoing a gradual development. He depicts men at different ages in their lives from adolescence to maturity; they are also shown at different stages of their personal development from fear through to acceptance. In a country where young gay men grew up without any visible role-models, Hennessy’s Seán Alone is one of his works that attempted to visualise their lives and emotions for the first time.

The exhibition Patrick Hennessy De Profundis, curated by Seán Kissane, is now in its final two weeks ending on Sunday 24 July. Part of the IMMA Modern Irish Masters series you can access a wealth of information about the artist on our mini site.

Join Seán Kissane for an insightful walk through of the exhibition
 on Saturday 23 July at 1.15pm. No booking required, meet at main reception. Free. Arrive early to avoid disappointment as numbers are limited.

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Artist’s Voice: Memorial Gardens

IMMA recently invited writer Sue Rainsford to respond to Niamh O’Malley’s The Memorial Gardens, 2008, which is featured in our current exhibition IMMA Collection: A Decade. The response is in the context of Art | Memory | Place, a year-long programme focusing on artists whose work addresses themes relating to memory and place. 

Made in 2008, while participating in IMMA’s Artist Residency Programme, The Memorial Gardens by Niamh O’Malley is an installation comprising footage taken at the National War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge, Dublin, projected onto oil on etched-primed aluminium.

Niamh O'Malley, 'The Memorial Gardens', 2008, Video projection, oil on etched-primed aluminium, Duration: 7min.22 sec. loop, 140 x 250 x 5.5 cm, Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art, Purchase | 2010

Niamh O’Malley, ‘The Memorial Gardens’, 2008, Video projection, oil on etched-primed aluminium, Duration: 7min.22 sec. loop, 140 x 250 x 5.5 cm, Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art, Purchase | 2010

What can we ascertain of the human gaze and the shadow it casts? Or of memory, that diaphanous veil that shrouds even the most vibrant recollections? Continue reading

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Artist’s Voice: holding onto nothing

We recently invited artist Teresa Gillespie to respond to a current IMMA exhibition by influential Italian artist Carol Rama (1918 – 2014) entitled; The Passion According to Carol Rama (IMMA Main Galleries until 1 August 2016). An excerpt from Teresa’s response is below, and the full text can be be read by clicking through to the PDF below. Teresa will also perform as part of Listen, Hissen, Hessin!, a one-night roving soundscape taking place within the Carol Rama exhibition at IMMA on Wednesday 22 June 2016.

Carol Rama, "Appassionata Passionate", 1943

When something is cut, something flows.

When Rama speaks, she cuts her own flows, turns left, does u-turns, spins round. She produces disorientation and disperses herself. She’s not going here or there, not becoming this or that. I wake up with the words ‘freedom to be no one’ in my head, from the Xenofeminisim Manifesto. But I misremember the words, which actually read, ‘the right of everyone to speak as no one in particular.’ I’m jealous of Rama’s loose tongue, how it splits and twists through contradictions. She practices the freedom of detachment. There is nothing to hold on to. She drops a thought as quickly as she picks up another one. The story goes that because there are so many stories, Rama is a secret onto herself, but perhaps Rama’s secret is a hole.

I’m a doughnut. Eat my flesh.

Read more of Teresa’s response here. Please note this text includes language which may not be suitable for younger readers.

Teresa Gillespie is an artist based in Dublin. She works across a number of mediums including sculpture, video, sound and text. Recent solo projects include ‘moot’ ArtBox, Dublin (2015); ‘below explanation (clocks stop at 3pm and existence continues)’, Wexford Arts Centre, Wexford (2015); and ‘return to the borderland bends’, John Jones Project Space, London (2014). She has exhibited in numerous group shows in Ireland and internationally, and undertaken artist residencies such as Frankfurter Kunstverein Deutsche Borse Program.

The Passion According to Carol Rama is at IMMA from 24 March – 1 August 2016.

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IMMA announces landmark Lucian Freud Project for Ireland alongside an expanded 2016 programme of new work

IMMA announces landmark Lucian Freud Project for Ireland
alongside an expanded 2016 programme of new work celebrating the radical thinkers and activists whose vision for courageous social change in Ireland and beyond remains relevant to us today.

IMMA is pleased announce highlights from our 2016 exhibition programme today, Tue 8 March 2016.

Sarah Glennie, Director of IMMA, said: “We are delighted to announce today that the IMMA Collection has secured an important long-term loan of 50 works by Lucian Freud (1922-2011); one of the greatest figurative painters of the 20th-century. From September 2016, the IMMA Collection: Freud Project will be presented in a new, dedicated Freud Centre in the IMMA Garden Galleries for five years. With this extraordinary resource IMMA will create a centre for Freud research with a special programme of exhibitions, education partnerships, symposia and research that will maximise this exciting opportunity on offer in Ireland.” Continue reading


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