"You canít make art by making art" has been a guiding principle in the work of David Ireland, one of California's most important and critically acclaimed artists working in the challenging arena of conceptual and installation art. "Ideally my work has a visual presence that makes it seem like part of a usual, everyday situation," he says. "I like the feeling that nothing's been designed, that you can't tell where the art stops and starts."
In November the Oakland Museum of California opens an exhibition surveying three decades of the work of this key figure in the conceptual art movement. The Art of David Ireland: The Way Things Are, the first in-depth assessment of Ireland's art and its ongoing significance, will be on view from Nov. 22, 2003 to March 14, 2004.
The exhibition features approximately 80 works created between 1972 and 2002, including four large-scale installations, 30 sculptures and 47 two-dimensional pieces. Included is a wide range of work demonstrating Ireland's adventuresome sense of creativity, from drawings made of cement and dirt to a motorized sculpture and a wooden chair 18 feet high. Ireland has been directly involved in the exhibition's installation, "activating the space" and creating relationships among his works of the past 30 years.
The exhibition also includes a video program featuring Ireland and his home -- a San Francisco Victorian described by one writer as an "environmental-sculpture-in-progress" -- and a reading room for visitors to learn more about the artist.
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said of Ireland's work, "David Ireland is one of this country's most influential conceptual artists, an artist of the enigmatic commonplace whose provocative, idiosyncratic art is like a Zen Koan. He makes us see that art is all around us and we need only to stop and look.''†
Over the past 30 years, David Ireland has produced a remarkable series of architectural transformations, installations, objects and drawings that consistently challenge viewers' everyday distinctions between art and non-art. A self-described "post-discipline" artist guided by Zen thought and postmodern aesthetics, Ireland moves fluidly from making small drawings to creating sculptures as large as houses. The exhibition features early two-dimensional works from the 1970s, made of dirt, talcum and cement, that have been rarely seen since they were created but are important in foreshadowing Ireland's later work. More recent two- and three-dimensional pieces reflect his wide-ranging interests, from exploration of the phenomenon of chance to his interest in process and history.
One of the artworks for which Ireland is perhaps best known is his home in San Francisco. In 1975, he purchased a run-down Victorian at 500 Capp Street and spent the next three years working on it. While he did not initially intend to create a work of art, he gradually began to perceive his actions in cleaning and restoring the house as an artistic performance, equating his moves with those of any painter or sculptor. He approached his tasks -- stripping wallpaper, polishing floors, sanding trim and repairing the sidewalk -- with a deliberate respect and finesse that for him fixed his actions firmly in the realm of art. When he repaired the sidewalk in front of his home, Ireland videotaped it as though it were an artistic performance. The house is filled with sculptures made out of "non-art" materials, including old brooms, bent wire, cement and wet paper.
Ireland was born in Bellingham, Washington, in 1930. He received his bachelor's degree in industrial design and printmaking from Oakland's California College of Arts and Crafts in 1953. He returned to school in the early 1970s, studying plastics technology and printmaking at Laney College and receiving a master of fine arts degree in printmaking in 1974 from the San Francisco Art Institute. His studio is currently located in Oakland.
He did not fully commit himself to art until he was in his early 40s, after traveling extensively around the world and working as an architectural draftsman, carpenter, designer, businessman and African safari guide. The exhibition looks at how these early life experiences have been influential, resulting, for example, in the reference to elephants in his works, the claiming of architecture as art, and the open-ended sense of exploration that is the foundation for his work.
David Ireland's work has been presented in more than 40 solo exhibitions, at venues including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. He has created major art projects and private commissions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other cities. His work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Oakland Museum of California, and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, among others.
Curator of The Art of David Ireland: The Way Things Are is Karen Tsujimoto, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum of California. Ms. Tsujimoto has more than 25 years experience in the organization of exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, and in 1985 organized David Ireland: A Decade Documented, 1975-1985 for the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 248-page catalog published by The University of California Press. The catalog contains 140 color and black-and-white illustrations along with essays on the development and significance of Ireland's work by the exhibition curator and Jennifer R. Gross, Seymour H. Knox, Jr. Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery.
The exhibition, catalog and all public programs are made possible with generous support from the Oakland Museum Women's Board; National Endowment for the Arts; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York; Ann Hatch and Paul Discoe; Paule Anglim; Agnes Bourne and Dr. James Luebbers; Nancy and Steven Oliver; and Friends of David Ireland.
Other Id, 1992
Branded alder wood, glass, metal,
paint & pillow;
Collection of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts,
University, Stanford, California;
Modern and Contemporary Art Fund,1998.109.a-d;
photo by: M. Lee Fatherree