Vincent Dermody

Suitable Gallery

The gallery that mounted Vincent Dermody’s most recent exhibition is actually a two-car garage. Sharing the space with a headstone and the oblong demarcation of a grave was a 1978 Ford LTD II in a tinny shade of bronze, which the artist had simply parked inside. Titled “You’re Still Under 30” (it opened just before Dermody crossed the threshold), the project functioned as part exorcism, part self-portrait, part arcane Irish wake, and part chastened declaration of independence.

When Dermody’s father arrived in the United States from Ireland, his name was changed by mistake to Darmody. In 2000, the year his mother died and eight years after his father’s death, the artist finally changed his own name back to its original. With his smallish inheritance, he bought the Ford and had a headstone professionally carved with the words R.I.P. / VINCE DARMODY / 1973–2000 / AGED 27 YEARS / D.D.D. (for “Darmody Died Drunk” or “Drink Drowned Darmody,” an old family joke on the alcoholism that’s shadowed several generations).

Redolent of an inchoate mourning, Dermody’s presentation also neatly addresses the clumsy determinism of ethnicity and identity. The strapping automobile, all heavy metal and sharp angles, is a potent sign of blue-collar machismo, and it speaks both of Dermody’s ’70s childhood and of his roots in a certain vernacular America. It’s a car of excess and authority but still proletarian and still—as comedian Freddie Prinze would have put it—“looking good.” Viewers were invited to get inside, where they were free to fiddle with the tape deck and check out the bobblehead tiger by the rear window. Parked next to the “grave,” the Ford was an assertion of life in death, a remembrance of things past with a blunt and brutish quality of presence.

Emblazoned with a Celtic cross, the headstone was surrounded by religious candles, small holy figurines, fake flower arrangements, etc. Hinting at the peculiar thrill of being at one’s own funeral and also at the facts of his own biography, Dermody links the chastening feelings of liberation caused by the death of one’s parents to his own assumption of a new/old name that both separates him from his youth and brings him closer to his Irish roots. The artist’s two names offered him a way to posit two identities and to take leave of one in a kind of palpable and self-indulgent exorcism, with a death undergone in order to make a birth possible. The trappings of Catholic ritual here are no surprise; if anything, it’s remarkable how richly those traditions can still embody the core passages of life and death. Now past thirty, Dermody must know how unlikely it is that he’s truly laid Darmody to rest.

James Yood