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Exhibitions > Past Exhibitions

IMMA Collection: Brian O’Doherty Language and Space

26 April  - 16 September 2018
Brian O’Doherty, Rotating Vowels v, 2014. Etching, 92 x 73.5cm. Edition of 40. Image courtesy the artist and Stoney Road Press.
IMMA presents Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, in association with fine art print studio Stoney Road Press, Dublin. Presented in the context of our Collections exhibition Coast-Lines, this solo exhibition includes a number of works by Brian O’Doherty/Patrick Ireland from IMMA’s National Collection, in addition to drawings from the 1960s, Structural Plays and new works recently published by Stoney Road Press as limited editioned prints. 

Brian O’Doherty Language and Space marks the artist’s lifelong commitment to exploring line, language and location, and is a timely celebration of the ten-year anniversary of his performance The Burial of Patrick Ireland at IMMA in 2008. 

All of the works on display evoke the discourse between mind and body that has absorbed Brian O’Doherty throughout his career. Many are inspired by Ogham script – an ancient Celtic translation of the Roman alphabet into a writing system of 20 linear characters. No Irish artist has placed Ogham so centrally to their work as O’Doherty/Ireland. In the mid-1960s, the artist brought this 1,500 year old language into New York’s avant-garde dialogue. Ogham allowed O'Doherty/Ireland to combine his interests in minimal-conceptual systems of expression, the senses and language - concerns right at the centre of critical thinking among the 1960s avant-garde, of whom he was a pioneering figure. He has focused extensively on Ogham’s vowels: A O U E I, which in their linear appearance and sound, have informed a vast range of his work ever since. 
Commenting on the exhibition Christina Kennedy, Head of Collections at IMMA said; “On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Burial of Patrick Ireland at IMMA, we are delighted to again work with artist Brian O’Doherty. This exhibition reflects the artist’s lifelong commitment to exploring line, language, identity and the senses and in this, his 90th year, acknowledges the extraordinarily prescient nature of this artist’s ideas and expression, which continue to push boundaries and provoke new thinking in art today.”

Commenting on working with Brian O’Doherty, James O’Nolan, Co-Director of his long time collaborators Stoney Road Press said; “We figured out how to register the complex web of coloured hatching he favoured, using separate etching plates, and I began to understand that these were not just drawings, they also possessed a voice. An Ogham voice. Later, working on the Structural Plays, I appreciated that not only had they had a voice, but many could be performed as well.  I suppose it could be said that these were the first prints I worked on that were all singing and all dancing.”

Brian O’Doherty is a figurehead of Irish and international contemporary art and his work holds notable legacy in Ireland. Over the past 60 years, he has invoked various identities in pursuit of his art. In 1972, as a patriotic gesture in response to Bloody Sunday and the political and civic unrest in Northern Ireland, O’Doherty performed Name Change at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, as part of the annual Irish Exhibition of Living Art. After a performance of the Ogham vowels, the artist changed his name from Brian O’Doherty to Patrick Ireland in the presence of a Notary Public. The masked, reclining artist was painted orange and green by fellow artists Robert Ballagh and Brian King, giving him the appearance of an atrocity victim.
For the next 36 years, Brian O’Doherty published writing as an art critic, whilst Patrick Ireland continued to work as an artist. On 20 May 2008, following the establishment of a power-sharing government and peace in Northern Ireland, the effigy of Patrick Ireland was placed in a coffin and his identity was waked and buried in the formal gardens of IMMA. During this performance called The Burial of Patrick Ireland the artist reassumed his birth name Brian O’Doherty.

About the Artist

Brian O’Doherty was born in Ireland in 1928, is now based in New York. When he left Dublin in 1957, O’Doherty was a qualified medical doctor and emerging artist, and is now renowned as an artist, writer, critic, television host, filmmaker and educator. One of the pioneering generation of conceptual art, O’Doherty produced many seminal works including Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (1966-’67) and an early ‘exhibition in a box’, Aspen 5+6 (1967), which features in our concurrent IMMA Collection exhibition Coast-Lines. When he left Dublin in 1956, O’Doherty was a qualified medical doctor and emerging artist, and is now renowned as an artist, writer, critic, television host, filmmaker and educator.

Major retrospectives of O’Doherty/Ireland’s work were held at the National Museum of American Art (1986), The Elvehjem Museum of Art (1993), The Butler Institute of American Art (1994), and Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane (2006) which travelled to the Grey Art Gallery, New York (2007).

O’Doherty/Ireland’s art is held in numerous private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centre George Pompidou, Paris; Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane, Dublin; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; National Museum of American Art, Washington D.C.; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA; Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

More Information

The Ogham script is an ancient Celtic translation of the Roman alphabet into a writing system of 20 characters that consists solely of lines arranged in four registers: in parallel or diagonally, across, above and below a central line.

No Irish artist - indeed any artist - has placed Ogham so centrally to his or her work as O' Doherty. Ogham, a 1500 year old language was brought into the intense avant-garde dialogue in New York, at a moment when conceptualism was evolving out of minimal and serial practice. He further condensed Ogham’s code to ontological concerns implicit in the words ONE HERE NOW and a focus on Ogham’s five vowels: A O U E I.   In their linear Oghamic appearance and implied sound, the vowels have been the basis for a vast array of drawings in various series and numerous sculptures since the 1960s, in what Lucy Lippard has called “an amazing array of relationships”.

In the five latest drawings, the Rotating Vowel series, (2015-16). Here Ogham’s linear lines have softened and slid into curves, segments and arcs in the overall radiating form.  Schematically, each drawing reads radially from core to edge (cumulatively) in vowel formation:  A = I, O = II, U = III, E = IIII, I = IIIII.  The internal drawing of fine lines of various colour in single or set configurations invoke the legibility and sounds of Ogham’s letters,  each “an echo chamber of past, present and outward to infinity”.

Associated Events 

On 26 April the film documenting The Burial of Patrick Ireland, produced by Se Merry Doyle, Loopline Films, Lament for Patrick Ireland will be shown in the exhibition. It will be shown on a continuous loop over the day. Admission free, no booking required.  

Curators Lunchtime Talk Series
Wednesday 1 August, 1.15pm / Meeting Point, Main Reception
Emer Lynch,  Collections, IMMA, presents an insightful gallery walk through of a selection of works featured in the exhibition Brian O’Doherty Language and Space.
Drop In / No booking required

Heritage Week 18– 26 August 2018
Lunchtime Talk - Damian McManus / The Ogham Script
Tuesday 21 August 2018, 1.00 - 1.45pm, Main Galleries, East Wing

No Irish artist has placed the Ogam so centrally to their work as Brian O’Doherty/Patrick Ireland, the source behind O’Doherty’s conceptual drawings and structural plays. Damian McManus Professor of Early Irish in Trinity College, Dublin, explores the rich history, Irish heritage and social functioning of this 1,500 year old language. Learn more about the history of the Ogham script from its inception down to the present, its writing systems, its distinctive linear characters, rhythmic motifs, and inscriptions as well as its importance within the context of the history of the Irish language today. This talk is programmed in the context of National Heritage Week and IMMA’s National Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art. Book Now

Now in his 90th year, O’Doherty is being celebrated across the country this month with a recent restoration of his extraordinary murals in Sirius Art Centre West Cork, inclusion in the exhibition Double Take at Glucksman Gallery Cork and live performances across the country that are inspired by, or including his work from Liz Roche Company and Gare St. Lazare.

Further Information

Download and read the official exhibition guide.

‘I Am Now a Saint’: Brian O’Doherty Turns 90; Frieze interviews the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube

Listen to Sean Rocks interview Brian O'Doherty on RTE Radio 1, Arena

Brian O’Doherty gets his due in Dublin Read the Apollo exhibition review

Freedom of Roscommon conferred on artist Brian O’Doherty, read the Irish Times piece

Exhibition Supported by


Irish Museum of Modern Art, Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin 8, D08 FW31, Ireland
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