IMMA – Irish Museum of Modern Art

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Gallery Voices: The Underbelly of New York

In our Gallery Voices series Ciara Magee, from our Visitor Engagement Team, explores the subject matter in American photographer Nan Goldin’s exhibition Weekend Plans

The exhibition is now in its final week ending this Sunday 15 October.
Admission is free.

The work of Nan Goldin is a site to behold. Her early work documents New York in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s at a time when artists took over the Lower East Side due to the low rents during the economic recession. Goldin moved to New York in 1978 following her graduation and almost immediately immersed herself in the ‘No Wave’ scene in which she has since become a key figure. The ‘No Wave’ movement was a short-lived scene that emerged in the late ‘70’s in downtown New York that influenced a new underground art, film and music scene based on the rejection of commercial ‘new wave’ music at the time.

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Nan Goldin, Weekend Plans, Installation view IMMA – Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2017. Photo: Denis Mortell.

Goldin’s body of work demonstrates to us the gritty reality of the underbelly of the city during this time. Her Exhibition, Weekend Plans is currently showing on the West Wing at IMMA alongside Irish artist, Vivienne Dick’s exhibition 93% STARDUST. Even though both of these exhibitions are separate shows, curated with a completely different approach, that is varied in their range of media, there are similar underlying themes and many of their mutual friends become faces we recogonise seeing them multiple times in both artists works.

From the outset, the blue colour on the walls, chosen by Goldin, interjects a sombre mood as we are met with her self portraits, taken from different decades. These portraits reflect many different aspects of Goldin’s life, including the high points and the low. Her most iconic work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, is also featured, a 45 minute slideshow consisting of over 700 snapshots taken between 1979 and 1986, compiled with music from The Velvet Underground, James Brown and Nina Simone among others. This music gives context to the image placement in the slideshow and creates a more concrete narrative for the viewer.


Viewers watching The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1985, by Nan Goldin, Installation view IMMA – Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2017

The Ballad seems to entice viewers for the entire duration of the work, on a number of occasions it has provoked in depth conversations about topics such as drug use, and of course, New York City itself. A number of weeks ago a woman approached me to tell me “it’s exactly how I remember it!”, to which she elaborated that she had grown up in New York herself and was of a similar age to Goldin. We discussed how the work had generated various memories from her youth including the hardships and highlights of living in the city during a time of such poverty amongst artists. What stood out in my mind is that Goldin had actually created this piece to exhibit to her friends and peers at the time to show life as it was happening, and now many years later within a museum, the work still resonates with her peers.

This work has become iconic for its documentation of subjects that had long been recognised as ‘taboo’, such as the AIDS virus, domestic abuse and drug use. Although many other artists have also focused on these subjects, what is unique about The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is that Goldin wasn’t just documenting this life, she played an active role.

One of the faces we see cropping up again and again is that of the actress Cookie Mueller, who Goldin had been a very close friend of since they met in 1976 and who she stated was “the most fabulous woman I’d ever seen”. The slideshow finishes with an image of Mueller at her husband Virrorio Scarpati’s funeral followed two months later by her own open casket after her death from the AIDS virus in 1989.

Also featured within this exhibition are sixteen rarely seen drawings by Goldin which she has created in recent years; and a series of photographs taken in Ireland during two of her visits, in 1979 and 2002, which have never been on display before.

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Nan Goldin, Weekend Plans, Installation view IMMA – Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 2017. Photo: Denis Mortell.

Displayed in the adjoining room to these images is a room entirely dedicated to Vivienne Dick and her son, Jesse. We see images taken over a long period of time and in many different places, from New York, to London and right here in Dublin. This work displays the close friendship both artists have shared with one another since their first meeting on Thanksgiving in 1978, shortly after Goldin had moved to New York.

By Ciara Magee – Visitor Engagement Team, IMMA.

This exhibition runs concurrently with Vivienne Dick’s exhibition 93% STARDUST which is also in its final week ending this Sunday 15 October 2017. Admission to both exhibitions is free.


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Gallery Voices: Understanding Hilma – A life dedicated to spirituality in art

By Leda Scully, Visitor Engagement Team, IMMA.

‘But no, she’s abstract, is a
Of sound in the air of air
And her soul sings
Because the song’s what
makes her sing.’
Fernando Pessoa

At the time of her death, the Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) left behind a body of work comprising 1,200 paintings, numerous sketchbooks and 26,000 pages of journals. She stipulated in her will that the work should not be seen for twenty years after her death, but in fact it was forty-two years before it was exhibited for the first time, in the 1986 show ‘The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890 – 1985,’ curated by Maurice Tuchman in L.A . Record numbers attended that show and audiences were reportedly stunned by this unheard-of Swedish painter whose work had remained unseen for so long, and who, it transpired, may have painted the first ever abstract paintings in Western art – quite a few years before Kandinsky.

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The Relationship between Artist and Model, A blog by renowned American painter Ellen Altfest.

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Ellen Altfest in studio. Photograph by Vincent Dillio.

Looking at the return to figuration in contemporary art practice, Altfest is one of several artists invited to respond on the affinities, methodologies and potential influences that contemporary artists continue to share with Freud. In conjunction with Altfest’s memorable Artist’s Talk at IMMA in June, we invite the artist to write a blog on her distinctive approach to working with life models, the rhythms and intensity of studio life and reflect on the interchanges between desire and detachment, in striking a balanced when working with her subjects.

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I was invited by IMMA to respond to their exhibition, As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics, and to work with Alice Butler and Daniel Fitzpatrick of AEMI to develop a screening for the IFI in conjunction with IMMA’s Talks and Public Programmes. The resulting programme – Out of Body – features films by Maya Deren, Mairéad McClean, Jordan Baseman, Paul Sharits, and John Smith, alongside a selection of my own work. These films consider the psychic and physical spaces of body and landscape; they explore automatic, subliminal and unconscious states of mind. Multiple viewpoints, strobing, and repetition draw attention to our perceptual senses, and to the very act of looking, and of being observed.  Out of Body took place at the IFI on Tuesday 25 July 2017 and you can listen back to the introduction and discussion here.

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