The Irish Museum of Modern Art at Kilmainham in Dublin reopened recently and I made a particular point of visiting during my recent short break in the city, particularly as I was keen to see the exhibition about the work of Eileen Gray that had originally been shown in Paris at the Beauborg. I got interested in her work after reading an article in the London Review of Books earlier this year, and had already visited the permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks, not far from the IMMA, in June, which had cemented my enthusiasm. Born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, she moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. She painted, worked in lacquer, produced rugs and carpets and moved on to designing bespoke furniture and Modernist buildings. So quite a talent.
I was very much looking forward to seeing this exhibition. However, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t as comprehensive as I’d hoped. It was fine in that it covered the breadth of her work, but I thought it lacked depth, at least in some aspects. I was particularly disappointed that they didn’t have more of her lacquer work on show. But I guess that must be hard to get hold of.
They only had a relatively limited range of her furniture, but, no doubt, that’s because she didn’t produce that much and they were mainly one off pieces created for private clients. They did have a Bibendum chair, a curved sofa and a couple of examples of the little reading table she designed. No photos allowed, but I have included some pictures in this post from various sources, including the Beaubourg and Victoria and Albert websites.
There was a section covering her architecture, with scale models, plans, photographs and slide shows and some pieces of her furniture from her revolutionary Modernist building, E-1027, some pieces designed specifically for the house. There were some photographs and a selection of nice abstract paintings, and carpet designs, with a few actual carpets, some from her workshop and one that had been recreated by an Irish firm.
There were also scale models of the buildings she’d designed, including E-1027,
theTempe a Pailla near Menton, as well as her renovated summer house Lou Perou (in this case a traditional design). There were models too of a couple of designs that were never realised in practice – an elliptical house designed for workers on remote sites or for temporary disaster housing, (I’m not sure that it would have been comfortable to live in) and an interesting looking caravan/tent.
The exhibition included contextual information – documentary, photographic and biographical material to provide insights into hers interests, influences and motivations. There are also a number of video works including pictures of E-1027, before and after its renovation, and an interview with the artist herself.
We visited the Bauhaus archive while we were in Berlin and I’ve been reading up on the revolutionary German art and design school both before and after that holiday. So I was quite struck with the many similarities between her work and that movement (the architecture and furniture designs particularly, but also her photographs and carpet designs). Not surprising, really I guess.
As a stand alone exhibition it was good, telling her life story well and with some good examples of her work. But it didn’t add as much as I’d hoped to what I’d seen and learned at the Collin’s Barracks. So, overall I enjoyed the exhibition, but felt a little unsatisfied. Rather like having eaten a light meal when you really expected something more substantial. But still well worth the visit.