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McDermott & McGough at IMMA

A retrospective of the entire photographic work of the American-born artists McDermott & McGough, covering two decades of their highly-original output in that medium, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 6 February 2008. An Experience of Amusing Chemistry: Photographs 1990 – 1890 comprises some 120 works created using a wide range of historic photographic techniques, including the use of palladium, gum, salt and cyanotype prints. Many of the processes which they employ have long since disappeared with the rapid development of photography and their reinvention causes a ghostly displacement of time characteristic of all of McDermott & McGough’s work. The exhibition will be officially opened by the Honorable Desmond Guinness at a private view at 6.00pm on Tuesday 5 February.

David McDermott and Peter McGough met when they were both part of the famous East Village New York art scene of the 1980s, and have since become renowned for their seamless fusion of art and life. In a revolt against the confines of chronological time, they have built their practice through appropriating imagery and objects from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have also assiduously reconstructed their lives as Victorian gentlemen – complete with knee britches, top hats and tail coats – immersing themselves in the environment and era in which they feel most at home, and, incidentally, dating their works accordingly.

Their photographs, paintings and installations are fueled by this self-imposed time travel, and reflect the larger performance art dimension of their everyday lives. In this way they have explored art and culture, both high and low, from religion and sexual mores to the new industrial age and popular entertainment. However, they also subvert the obvious by incorporating homoerotic and art historical references, allowing the subject to expand outside of its time-capsule-like boundaries and to exist in relation to current cultural and artistic ideals, as in A Soap Bubble, 1915 (1991) and The Last Supper, 1898 (1998).

McDermott & McGough are particularly drawn to the mysterious and theatrical nature of the rapidly developing science of photography in their chosen era and the exhibition presents a series of magical experiments sourced from Les Récréations Scinetifiques and hints at the possible use of photography to communicate across time to different psychic spaces, as in the eponymous Experience of Amusing Chemistry, 1884 (1996) and Curious Experience of Equilibrium with Three Sticks, 1884 (1990).

Shot with an authentic 8” x 10” view camera and developed using chemical processes from an earlier era, each photographic procedure is selected to suit its chosen subject matter.  Based upon the light sensitivity of ferric salts, cyanotyping, as in Mocking Orange Grove, 1901 (1989), was traditionally used for the reproduction of botanical specimens, while the gum print offered more variation in colour, seen to good effect in works such as Washer Woman’s Effects, 1915 (1990).
The exhibition also includes a recent film work made in 2000, entitled Found, 1928. Ostensibly composed of sections of found film, it is set in Dublin, with its main focus being the Formal Gardens at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, where IMMA and their exhibition are located.

This exhibition is being shown in the East Ground Galleries at IMMA, in a contrived domestic setting with opulent hand-painted wallpaper and an 18th-century geometric floor pattern copied from Powerscourt Townhouse, Dublin.

McDermott was born in Hollywood, California, in 1952, although he spent the majority of his childhood in New Jersey. McGough was born in 1958 in Syracuse, New York, where he lived until moving to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1977. Coincidentally, David attended Syracuse University studying Advertising Design in the 1970s but their paths never crossed until they were both living in New York City a few years later. They have exhibited widely internationally and were nominated for the Glen Dimplex Award at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1998.  Previous exhibitions include the Frankfurt Kunstverein 1986 and the Whitney Biennial, New York, in 1987, 1991 and 1995. In 1997 the duo mounted a mid-career retrospective exhibition at the Provincial Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Oostende, Belgium.

An Experience of Amusing Chemistry: Photographs 1990 to 1888 is curated by Seán Kissane, Curator: Exhibitions, IMMA.

The exhibition is sponsored by De Gournay, London.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue published by IMMA, with a foreword by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA, and texts by Matthew Higgs, Director, White Columns, New York, and Seán Kissane. The catalogue is supported by Marie Donnelly.

The exhibition continues at IMMA until 27 April 2008. It will tour to Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, from November 2008 to January 2009.

Opening hours:

Tuesday to Saturday: 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday: 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays: 12 noon – 5.30pm
Mondays and Friday 21 March: Closed

Admission is free.

For further information and images please contact Monica Cullinane or Patrice Molloy at Tel: +353 1 612 9900; Email: [email protected]

14 January 2008 

Important Notice


We would like to advise our visitors that our Main Reception area is closed for renovation from 22 April until mid-June.  A temporary reception is open on the ground floor next to the original main entrance. While we prepare to open our next exhibition Hilary Heron: A Retrospective on 24 May, there are two exhibitions to see Derry Film & Video Workshop and Self: Determination: Artists Commissions. IMMA’s gardens and café are open to the public.