David Ireland

Review

David Ireland

By Danica Willard Sachs February 11, 2016

Suspended from the ceiling and twirling above a circular pile of kitschy Roman-style garden statuary in the center of SFAI’s Walter Gallery, David Ireland’s Angel-Go-Round (1996) is a mash-up of wit and melancholy typical of the artist. Supported with only a fluorescent yellow strap looped across her gray fiberglass waist, the angel flies precariously through the air. The mechanical groan of the motor propelling her orbit above the heap of concrete bodies reverberates throughout the gallery and lends a haunting quality to this work and the entire exhibition. Coinciding with the reopening of 500 Capp Street, Ireland’s house-turned-artwork, the tightly edited David Ireland shows an artist fluent in the language of conceptual art and grounded in everyday materials like concrete, wood, and metal. Bringing together Angel-Go-Round, along with a range of small sculptures, another large-scale installation, and several small paintings, the exhibition is a carefully selected representation of the varied practices encompassing Ireland’s career. It underscores Ireland’s insistence on an art inflected by place and time, an art that reveals, in the words of fellow conceptual artist Allan Kaprow, “as if for the first time, the world we have always had about us but ignored.”1

David Ireland. Smithsonian Falls, Descending a Staircase for P.K., 1987; installation view, Gallery as Place, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute, 1987. Courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute Archives. Photo: Simo Neri.

First conceived for a 1987 exhibition at SFAI and re-created here on the same staircase, Ireland’s Smithsonian Falls, Descending a Staircase for P.K. (1987) is a mudslide of concrete poured down the stairs between the gallery’s second and first floors. As in the original installation, the thick liquid concrete is allowed to follow its own course, pooling and then solidifying on the stairs, rendering them inoperable. Invoking site-specific works by Robert Smithson, such as Asphalt Rundown (1969), Ireland moves beyond Smithson’s idea of “entropy made visible.”2 In Smithsonian Falls viewers are denied easy access to the works on the second level of the space because of the action on the stairs, forcing them to confront the futility created by entropy.

David Ireland. David Ireland, 2016; installation view, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute. Photo: Gregory Goode.

A long table positioned at the back of the gallery displays smaller objects, most of them filled, overflowing with, or frozen in concrete: a sort of curio cabinet of Ireland’s experiments in this vein. One untitled work from 1983, for example, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Smithson: Concrete spills out of the mouth of a cardboard container for Lansco Dry Color paint pigment made in Smithson’s hometown of Passaic, New Jersey. Nearby, in another untitled work not dated, a spoon stands upright in a small aluminum bowl packed with concrete gruel, immobilized by Ireland’s materials. Methodically arranged on the table like artifacts or Duchampian found objects, these artworks have a precious, mysterious quality inflected by Ireland’s wry humor.

David Ireland. David Ireland, 2016; installation view, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute. Photo: Gregory Goode.

Untitled (Window) (1991) also riffs on Duchamp, resembling a minimalist take on the iconic The Large Glass (1915–1923). Here Ireland reduces Duchamp’s abstract sculpture of foil, wire, and oil sandwiched between two glass panes to a simple windowpane standing upright on a wood and metal frame. Duchamp’s artwork gave the viewer an object to look both at and through; Ireland’s limits us, inviting us only to look through, the window neatly framing the blank wall behind it.

“So much of what I do is living my life, and art simply occurs in the process.”3 This line spoken by Ireland is often considered a succinct description of his practice. Smithsonian Falls provides evidence of Ireland’s process-driven approach to making artwork, but a quieter, earlier work proves how long he has been working in this manner. Mounted on the wall across from Smithsonian Falls, A Portion of: From the Year of Doing the Same Work Each Day (1975) is essentially a concrete monochrome, but it arose from the artist’s belief “that changing objects or images was no progress and was just another arbitrary selection.”4 With this conviction, Ireland began to make identical objects each day he was in the studio, removing aesthetic decision-making and relying solely on concept and process to make artworks like A Portion of: From the Year of Doing the Same Work Each Day.5 Hung on the wall like a painting, but with the pocked, textural surface of cement, the work reads more as a sculpture. Repeating this process again and again, like a meditative mantra for art production, Ireland created the conceptual foundation from which much of the other work in the exhibition would arise.

David Ireland. David Ireland, 2016; installation view, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute. Courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute. Photo: Gregory Goode.

Part of the strength of the exhibition lies in the tension between works that show Ireland demystifying the labor of the artist—for example, in Smithsonian Falls and A Portion of: From the Year of Doing the Same Work Each Day, where the act of making is overt—and works that hold on to a magical, enigmatic quality, like Angel-Go-Round. Throughout, Ireland draws our attention repeatedly to the material conditions of each object, the where and how of every action, rooting them in real time and space.

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David Ireland is on view at Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI, in

San Francisco

, through March 24, 2016.

Notes

  1. Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993): 9.
  2. Nancy Holt, narrating the film documentation of Asphalt Rundown, an excerpt of which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AmpyiR6kj8.
  3. Quoted in Bill Berkson, “David Ireland’s Accommodations,” Art in America 77 No. 9 (September 1989): 184.
  4. Quoted in Constance M. Lewallen, “500 Capp Street: A History,” in 500 Capp Street: David Ireland’s House (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015): 25.
  5. Karen Tsujimoto writes in detail about Ireland’s process in “Scratching the Surface,” in The Art of David Ireland: The Way Things Are (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

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