Dubh, meaning “black” in Gaelic, is the basis of a new craft exhibition beautifully installed in a lavish Beaux-Arts mansion across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The 1901 building is the home of the American Irish Historical Society and a surprising but sympathetic venue for contemporary craft. Climbing the marble steps above 5th Avenue lead to ornate reception rooms and the exhibition. The frisson between the grand interiors and the starkly modern black objects is very successful. After a few claustrophobic hours at the Metropolitan Museum the whole experience was a welcome relief.
The exhibition was curated by Brian Kennedy and presented by STUDIO practice, an “organization devoted to facilitate dialogue, build relationships and encourage interdisciplinary engagements between Irish Artists, Designers and Studio Makers and their international contemporaries.” The exhibition is supported by Culture Ireland and Crafts Council of Ireland with the US artists presented in association with Sienna Gallery, The Snyderman/Works Gallery and Cristina Grajales Gallery.
The 30 Irish and US artists include furniture makers, glass, ceramic and fiber artists, metalsmiths, fine artists (not craft) and of course jewelers. The effect of so many black objects in the densely installed exhibition requires a slowing-down of looking. There is hard, shiny black and dull, dry black. Soft black. Is that transparent black? Sharp Black. Sensual black. If arctic peoples have 30 words to describe snow there must be as many to describe black. There are a few flashes of color in some of the pieces but overall it is very BLACK. As Richard Deming notes in his essay in the excellent exhibition catalog, there is some relation to Robert Ryman’s white paintings that pushes the viewer’s perception of what you could understand of a single color. Or in the case of Dubh, a noncolor.
There were many accomplished pieces in Dubh but I want to single out a few:
Coilin O’Dubhghaill’s (Ireland) finely hammered copper vessels have a monumental presence even though modest in scale.
Jonathan Wahl’s (USA) huge drawings of antique jewelry still amaze and looked glorious in the opulent surroundings.
Lauren Fensterstock’s (USA) pitch-black paper installation of plants and flowers is like seeing at night what can’t be seen.
Liam Flynn’s (Ireland) turned and blackened oak vessels.
Inga Hamilton (Ireland) created a fiber and mixed media nocturnal tidal pool happily lapping at the legs of a grand piano in the front parlor.
The jewelry was especially strong and it was good to see well-known US makers like Sondra Sherman, Suzanne Beautyman and Doug Bucci alongside Irish makers such as Angela O’Kelley, Eily O’Connell and Seliena Coyle.
dubh: dialogues in black is one of the more interesting craft exhibitions I have seen in a while and worth a special trip. If you are in New York don’t miss it.
dubh: dialogues in black exhibition at the American Irish Historical Society runs until 13th November 2011. It opens in Ireland in 2012 where it will be shown at Oliver Sears Gallery, Molesworth Street, Dublin from 2 February to 15 March.
American Irish Historical Society, 991 Fifth Avenue, New York