New York

Patrick Ireland

“Patrick Ireland” is a pseudonym adopted by Irish-born Brian O’Doherty in 1972, “until such time as the British military presence is removed from Northern Ireland.” This miniretrospective of his work, curated by Russell Panczenko, was a revised version of a show Panczenko originally curated for the Elvehejen Museum in Madison, Wisconsin.

Ireland’s oeuvre is the expression of an elegant mind. Some of the works involve references to the artist’s original profession as a medical doctor. Kip’s Bay: The Body and Its Discontents, 1964, for example, is a stacked array of little boxes with medical terms on them, somewhat in the spirit of Flux-boxes and of certain early analytical works by Robert Smithson. Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, Lead 1, 1966–67, is based on an electrocardiogram of Duchamp, which the artist-as-doctor took in the last years of Duchamp’s life.

Another group of works—drawings, photographs, and, occasionally, sculpture—have a significant sensual component, as in The Critic’s Boots, 1964–65. Others employ a variety of classical conceptualist strategies. The conflation of presence with representation, for example (as in Joseph Kosuth’s First Investigation and other works of the period), is evident in Ireland: A Modest Proposal, 1980, where a rearranged map shows the Northern counties of Ireland transposed into the Republic.

Yet another such strategy, which might be called serializing, informs Wittgenstein 7H to 7B, 1967, a series of drawings of Ludwig Wittgenstein rendered with progressively softer leads, and The Transformation, Discontinuity, and Degradation of the Image: Self-Portrait, 1969–, serial portrait-photographs of Ireland himself, taken at several-year intervals. Perhaps the most classically conceptualist are Ireland’s photographs with hand-lettered texts on them, such as Past, Present, Future (Portrait of the Artist Aet.7), 1967.

Another group of works eschews graphic or plastic incarnation to participate in a type of esthetic response that has often been remarked upon by mathematicians, logicians, and others who deal with thought in highly formalized ways. Along with some other first-generation Conceptual artists, Ireland believed that part of the mission of Conceptual art was to demonstrate the esthetic appeal of philosophical arguments, that is, to prove the existence of an esthetics of thought, and conduct explorations of it. “If all concepts and objects were similar,” a detail of Between Categories, 1957-68, observes, “they would be the same idea or thing, i.e. one thing and one idea in every place and in every mind. In practice this introduces repetition in series.” Repetition in series is, of course, a frequent structuring principle of conceptual work and for Ireland seems to reflect a belief in the underlying unity of experiential phenomena. “Does similarity overcome dissimilarity?” Ireland asks.

The Wittgensteinian/analytic trend in Ireland’s work predominated from the late ’50s to about 1972, the year of Name Change. Thereafter the emphasis of Ireland’s oeuvre shifted toward the sculptural articulation of architectural space. In the separate retrospective in Madison, this impulse was represented by a three-dimensional painterly “rope drawing,” Caligari’s Palace, 1993. At P.S. 1, there was a labyrinth that worked like a logic problem or paradox—wherever you entered, you kept somehow coming out reversed. As Wittgenstein said, the purpose of philosophy is “to get the fly out of the flybottle.”

Thomas McEvilley