New York

David Ireland

Damon Brandt

There has been a surge of interest recently in the art world over arte povera. The movement, which emerged in Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s, has never been so appreciated as it is now. Greater recognition has also been given to a number of American artists whose work since the late ’70s has offered a more local manifestation of the same esthetic. The new fascination with this esthetic has resulted in the rediscovery of a number of exceptional artists, many of whom are conceptually oriented and have lived and worked in the San Francisco area since the mid ’70s. David Ireland is one such artist, and this exhibition was a very welcome step toward bringing this West Coast master of deconstructed interiors toward the larger audience he deserves.

Ireland involves himself in the creation of difficult, enigmatic, site-oriented environmental sculpture. He shares with arte povera artists a love for cheap, “unesthetic” materials. Whereas arte povera work is sometimes precious and contrived, Ireland’s multifaceted pieces are simple and seemingly undeliberate in the way that they come together. Ireland’s various creative endeavors take off from a specific point of reference: that of the site. The artist conceives of, and responds to, every place as a multiply dynamic situation; he remarks on the architectural and sensory aspects of the environment, and instills a fragile binding membrane of sociohistorical and personal associations within that environment. With his casual array of modest gestures and scattered mementos, he builds an entire complex organism whose life tissue is a language of obtuse yet direct reflections and recollections. The entire space is the object, so that each individual piece is but one artifact from the quasi-archeological dig. Ireland’s art extends a loving curiosity toward the assorted flotsam and jetsam that is at once discarded and retrieved within the work. The odd pieces in an Ireland assemblage are parts of a larger puzzle; the whole is perhaps no less odd, but certainly more evocative in its cross-correspondences.

Ireland has a unique appreciation of setting and all its minor players: bits of peeled wallpaper and paint, wads of newspaper, tar and concrete, broken-up pieces of used furniture, and all sorts of other mundane refuse. These are all shaped and recontextualized into neat museumlike displays, unassuming domestic tableaux, and obtrusive piles reminiscent of construction site havoc, and of dried-out fecal deposits.

Deconstructivism, usually so dull and academic, becomes unmistakably metaphysical in Ireland’s hands. He reveals the hidden cultural meanings and unrealized potentials in spaces and their contents. The show was aptly titled “Multiple Implications,” for it explored the many associative meanings that we receive from everyday objects in slightly altered situations, and demonstrated how fragile and dependent upon presentation significance really is.

Ireland’s work makes you wonder if you’re inside a gallery, a laboratory, a home, an artisan’s shop, a construction site, or a long-forgotten attic. It makes you question everything you see. What is meant and what is accidental? What is deliberate and what is casual? What is art and what is not, or rather, what has been done intentionally or what just happens to be there? Every aspect, every gesture, poses a circumstantial problem; at issue is whether or not we are even supposed to notice some things, and what they imply. Ireland uncovers things and leaves them exposed, showing us secrets of structure as well as meaning. Everything before us stands naked and raw, yet is elegantly cloaked by the mystery of its personal intent, hybridized by the company it keeps, and enigmatized by the general blur surrounding its value and social function. There is confusion as well as illumination whenever Ireland’s mutant objects get together. Familiar yet foreign, they make you feel at home—but a home you’ve not been to in ages, or perhaps have yet to live in.

Carlo McCormick