David Ireland


San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Kenneth Baker

Bay Area art history still predisposes people to see mere flippancy in works by David Ireland such as a sheet of paper coated with cement, or a stretched canvas bathed unceremoniously in cement and yellow enamel. Both appear in his current show at Anglim.

But such ostensibly empty objects come more as calming than comic relief in an art world and a wider culture jumpy with competing, ego-powered communications. Ireland's blankest, most deadpan efforts heighten our awareness of the ricochet of other artists' ambitions, zinging all around, even through our memories.

The small room full of Ireland's drawings at Anglim makes this especially clear. Whatever move Ireland made in these generally simple, undated sheets, he strayed into something that looks like allusion -- to Joseph Beuys or Richard Tuttle, Robert Ryman, Richard Diebenkorn, even Mark Rothko.

By their expressive autism, Ireland's pieces often disclose less about themselves than about the condition in which they exist: a cultural field so charged with expectation and reference that everything seems possible in it except meaninglessness, true absurdity. So Ireland aims for that, at least occasionally. What he usually hits instead is a revelation of the beauty of both matter and detail in their own right.

Anglim has re-created a major Ireland installation work, "Penn's Pocket" (1992), a replica of the tight corner in which Irving Penn asked portrait subjects to pose before his camera. Beneath a low-wattage bulb, in the long, angled wall, Ireland has embedded a print of Penn's portrait of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), to Ireland a guiding spirit, who responded to Penn's squeeze play as if it had been his idea all along.

Health problems have slowed Ireland's work in recent years, but his show includes one new piece. A lighted cabinet full of odd objects, from plaster "skull bowls" to cardboard monochromes and ear-shaped cutouts that evoke elephants and Ireland's early career as an african art dealer, it forms a reliquary self-portrait, full of foreboding.