Wednesday 8 January 2014

Eileen Gray at IMMA

After being closed for renovations at least a year, IMMA re-opened last October with what was touted as a spectacular and comprehensive exhibition of work by Eileen Gray. I came across an exhibition of Gray's work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on my first art-school visit to New York in 1980, and was incredibly inspired by her work so I was looking forward to this exhibition. I was getting anxious as the closing date was drawing near (next week!) but finally found the time yesterday after attending a site meeting in the morning. While the exhibition was "comprehensive" in that it included information on all aspects of her work -- architecture, collage, carpet design, furniture design, photography, painting and lacquer work it actually seemed very dry. I was disappointed, not in the work, but in the curation. The National Museum has an extensive archive of Eileen Gray letters and photographs, many of which were borrowed for this exhibition. Rather than supporting the objects it seemed that the objects were supporting the archival documents. There was a disconnect between the viewer and the work. For instance, the beautiful lacquer screen below was displayed in a glass-fronted solid box totally defeating the purpose of the screen! Gray had designed this divider screen specifically so that what was on the other side of the divider could still be glimpsed. The layout of the IMMA exhibition space is such that the screen could have easily been accommodated by displaying between rooms (many of which were divided by ropes anyway so that you had to go out to the hall to get into another room!). As the view of all 3 dimensional items was limited to one perspective, I thought there was a severe lack of imagination on the curator's part. I distinctly remember being able to walk around large pieces of furniture and screens at the exhibition in New York.

Again, the asymmetrical cupboard below was roped off with the wall directly behind so the audience got a straight, head on view only . The didactic said the cork drawers were lined with silver leaf. I would have liked to see it, not just read about it!

It was a pleasure to see some of the tiny collage/paintings which reminded me of Kasimir Malevich's work. It was easy to understand how Gray developed her interest in carpet design and I was glad to see some completed carpets in this exhibition.

This very vibrant screen was NOT in the Dublin exhibition, but it seemed familiar, so maybe I saw it in New York. The funny thing about being inspired by Eileen Gray in 1980 was that I had no idea that she was Irish -- born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford the town where my mosaic panel "Gorse" resides at the Enniscorthy Community Hospital. The Metropolitan still has her listed as a British artist, so perhaps that is a reason why I did not realise she is was Irish till about 10 years ago.

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