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David Ireland / MATRIX 120

October 7, 1988 - December 7, 1988

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Installation view

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

David Ireland is an artist constantly tampering with the vocabulary and value system of art. Working in multiple disciplines and in a variety of media-from lumps of dirt to light-filled environments-he freely challenges accepted hierarchies. Ireland questions the very nature of art by presenting alternative propositions-among them the notion that aesthetics are irrelevant to art. His ideas are based on the simple belief that art occurs in the process of life itself; it's simply a matter of personal choice.

In exploring these ideas, Ireland has touched upon a wide range of expression -sculpture, painting, architecture, performance, video, and installation art. Believing that art can be found in the world as well as in a museum, he literally took his work to the streets in 1976, when he repaired the sidewalk in front of his home and had artist Tom Marioni videotape the event. Perhaps the best known of Ireland's art/life works is his Victorian home at 500 Capp Street in San Francisco. During his three-year (1975-78) transformation of this house, Ireland discovered in the exposed moulding, glue-stained walls, and smoky windows the kind of lively presence he had sought in his earlier abstract paintings, and decided to preserve this information with transparent glazes of polyurethane or hand-applied wax. He perceived his actions as a performance and approached his everyday tasks-polishing floors, sanding trim-with a respect and finesse that for him fixed his actions firmly in the realm of art.

Ireland also created numerous sculptures and tableaux from the debris that surrounded him. His broom collection with boom, 1978-88, a sculpture made from old brooms left by the previous owner of the house, is a visual metaphor for the passage of time. Sweepings from the doorstep, preserved in glass jars, are displayed on shelves in his living room. Raw and inelegant, and sometimes humorous, these works attest to Ireland's conviction that art can be made from life's most unremarkable materials and the simplest, untrained acts.

This interest in regenerating information finds particular resonance in Ireland's environmental works. By appropriating life-scale situations-rooms, buildings, or parks-into the realm of art, Ireland validates the inherent character of these spaces. He speaks of this as the spirit of place. Instead of imposing ideas onto a site, Ireland allows the situation to determine his response, as with a recent commission, Newgate, 1986-87, located at Candlestick Point on the San Francisco Bay, in a former dump site being revitalized into a state park. Working with the mass of concrete that litters the area, Ireland constructed two megalithic walls that gradually converge into a narrow passageway leading to an uncompromised vista of the bay. Rising from its desolate surroundings, Newgate possesses the primeval grandeur of its namesake, Newgrange, a stone age burial ground in Ireland made of over four thousand tons of rock.

Uncovering the spirit of a place is crucial to Ireland's philosophy. But when a situation lacks a singular sense of presence, Ireland is not beyond creating his own, as he has done when working in the uniformly anonymous, white spaces of contemporary galleries and museums. Often he will create his own context by altering the physical quality of the space-by building new walls, recoloring the wall surfaces, manipulating the lighting, or activating the viewer's participation in the space. For example, Ireland's Reading Station, created specially for this exhibition, can be seen as a sculpture in which viewers become part of the piece as they sit in the room and read. Intrigued by the multiple implications a work can evoke, Ireland also prompts us to consider alternative propositions: that reading is an art and/or that books and catalogs have replaced the experience of art itself.

Throughout Ireland's work and thought, there is the denial of the existence of absolute values and the notion that art must be logically clear or reasonable. To his mind, there is no privileged style or medium. What matters more is the artist's will to discover.
For Ireland it is not so much a matter of making art as it is the allowance of vision.

Born in Bellingham, Washington in 1930, Ireland received his B.A.A. from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, in 1953, and his M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1974. He is the recipient of numerous awards, among them a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1983; Adaline Kent Award, San Francisco Art Institute, 1987; Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, 1987; and Englehard Award, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1988. Ireland lives and works in San Francisco and is represented by Damon Brandt Gallery, New York.

The exhibition and catalog, David Ireland: A Decade Documented 1978-1988, have been organized by the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, UC Santa Cruz.

Karen Tsujimoto
Guest Curator

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, the LEF Foundation, the California Tamarack Foundation, and the Alameda County Art Commission's County Supervisors' Art Support Program.