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Michael Craig-Martin Retrospective at IMMA

A large-scale retrospective of the work of the internationally-acclaimed painter, sculptor and installation artist Michael Craig-Martin opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 4 October 2006. Michael Craig-Martin: Works 1964-2006 is only the second retrospective of the Irish-born artist’s work, the first having taken place in the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1989. Spanning more than 40 years of Craig-Martin’s radical and innovative practice, it presents some 50 paintings, sculptures, wall drawings, neon works and text pieces. One of the most striking works in the exhibition will be a newly-commissioned wall painting in the colonnades of IMMA’s beautiful 17th-century courtyard.

Michael Craig-Martin traces the remarkable evolution in the artist’s work from his early sculptures to his recent works using computer software. Despite the range of his oeuvre certain consistent themes are clearly discernible, particularly the dialogue between representation and reality within art. The everyday objects that constantly recur in Craig-Martin’s works have been described as “functioning as words do in language”. The selection of these objects, their colour, spatial relationship and juxtaposition is what provides the tension and narrative within his work.

The influence of Craig-Martin’s early years in America, where he witnessed the birth of minimal and conceptual art, can be seen in such works as On the Table, 1970, comprising four metal buckets suspended on a table, which is part of IMMA’s Collection; also, in arguably his most iconic and provocative piece, An Oak Tree, 1973, which consists of no more than an ordinary glass of water on an equally ordinary shelf, accompanied by a text in which Craig Martin’s asserts the supremacy of the artist’s intention over the object itself. Greeted with surprise, and even scorn, on its first showing, this work is now widely regarded as heralding something of a turning point in the development of conceptual art.

Prompted by a growing frustration with the limitations inherent in the use of actual objects, Craig-Martin soon began to make drawings of the objects he had been using. In a published interview with Rachael Thomas, Head of Exhibitions at IMMA, he describes this new-found freedom: “Once I’d made a work using a glass of water, every time I used a work featuring a glass of water I was referencing my own work.…On the other hand … [with a drawing of a glass of water] I can make an image five stories high or the size of a postage stamp. I can make it green and purple, upside down. I can do anything, because these are manipulations that language allows.” 

The exhibition features a large number of Craig-Martin’s highly-individual paintings, ranging from Painting and Picturing, created in 1978, to Eye of the Storm, dating from 2003, which was shown to great popular and critical acclaim in an exhibition of the same name from IMMA’s Collection in 2005. In these, everyday objects are presented in a flat graphic manner, sharply outlined without tonal variation usually on a brightly-coloured background. Colour is used as an extension of drawing, to distinguish one object from another, or one part of an object from another. Despite their scale, and in some cases their apparent complexity, they still retain the innate simplicity common to all Craig-Martin’s work, which he describes as “simple and sophisticated at the same time.… My picture of our society is that the things that unite us, at a very simple level, are the ordinary things we make to survive. The most universal manifestation of ourselves are the things we make, ordinary things, books, tables, chairs, shoes and beer cans…”

Examples of the artist’s most recent new departure can seen in Reconstructing Seurat, 2004, and Deconstructing Piero, 2005, based on two of his favourite historical paintings –  Georges Seurat’s The Bathers at Asinéres and Piero della Francesca’s The Flagellation. Using computer software to separate the figures from their background, Craig-Martin reconstructed the images, replacing the original colour with his own vivid palette. The exhibition also includes Film, 1963, the artist’s only film-work to date, made in Connemara when he was still a student and now part of IMMA’s Collection.

Born in Dublin in 1941, Craig-Martin was brought up in the United States, but continued to visit his father’s family in Dublin throughout his childhood. He studied fine art at Yale University, where he met such influential artists as Richard Serra, Brice Marden and Chuck Close.  He returned to Europe in the mid-1960s, where he became one of the leading figures of the first generation of British conceptual artists.  As Professor of Fine Art in Goldsmiths College, London, in the 1970s and ‘80s, Craig-Martin was a key influence on the yBa generation of artists – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and many more.  He has shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, both in Britain and internationally, and has produced installations for the Projects exhibition series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1991, and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, 1994. In 1993 he returned to Goldsmiths College as Millard Professor of Fine Art and in 1998 he represented Britain at the Bienal de São Paulo in Brazil.

The exhibition is curated by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA. 

The exhibition is presented in association with THE IRISH TIMES.

An illustrated book written by award-winning art critic, historian, broadcaster and curator Richard Cork, accompanies the exhibition.  The book is published by Thames & Hudson in association with IMMA (price €35.00). An interview book has also been produced to coincide with the show. This is one in a new series of interviews, artists’ statements and essays, being published by IMMA, which will form a collectable edition on Irish and international artists. Michael Craig-Martin is interviewed by Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.

Richard Cork will present a lecture, entitled Discovering Michael Craig-Martin, in the Chapel at IMMA at 5.00pm on Tuesday 3 October.  Admission is free, but booking is essential. To book please telephone the automatic booking line on Tel: +353 1 612 9948 or email: [email protected]

The exhibition continues until 14 January 2007. Admission is free.

Opening hours: 
Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays 12 noon – 5.30pm
Closed Monday and 24 – 26 December

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

4 September 2006

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. There are three exhibitions to visit  Hilary Heron: A Retrospective; Derry Film & Video Workshop and Self: Determination: Artists Commissions. IMMA’s shop, café and gardens are all open.