James Coleman, Seeing for Oneself, 1987 – 88
James Coleman RHA

This exhibition is the largest and most ambitious staging in Ireland to date of the work of the internationally acclaimed Irish artist, James Coleman. A collaboration between three of Dublin’s leading cultural venues, the exhibition will take place at IMMA, Project Arts Centre and the RHA

Recognised internationally as one of the most important and pioneering contemporary artists, the work of James Coleman over the last forty years has transformed the role of image and sound in visual art, and redefined our relationship with artworks we see today in museums and galleries around the world. His influence can be seen in a generation of younger international artists, including Steve McQueen, Douglas Gordon, Tino Sehgal, Stan Douglas, and Jeff Wall.

Coleman’s use of technology and new media since the 1970s has been profoundly influential. In the work Charon (MIT Project), 1989, on show at the RHA, photography acts as both the medium of presentation (slides), but also as the subject and theme of the 14 short episodes. One of Coleman’s most humorous and engaging works, we see how the everyday practice of taking photographs is transformed into compelling short stories about the ‘behind the scenes’ of photography, and the value and complexity of what we cannot visually see behind a single photograph. A captivating work both visually and narratively, Charon (MIT Project) provides an amusing and stimulating reflection on our image-conscious and celebrity culture.

Coleman’s use of popular culture is also recognised for the way in which his works intertwine ancient mythologies and historical conventions with the most popularised and apparently trivial of artforms. While ‘Charon’ was the ancient Greek god who ferried the dead to the afterlife, in Seeing for Oneself, 1987-88, also on show at the RHA, the literary traditions of historical and romantic novels are intertwined with the visual look of teenage ‘photo-stories’ and black and white Gothic films. Set in an eerie-looking château in the mountains, the plot has the drama and tension of a great crime thriller or Agatha Christie novel. As viewers, we become drawn into trying to discover and unravel the secrets and mysteries of this narrated visual story.

In Ireland, James Coleman remains a figure little known to a wider audience. Yet, internationally, his work is recognised as having had a pioneering influence on contemporary art over the last forty years. This exhibition and collaboration between IMMA, the Project Arts Centre, and the RHA, hopes to redress this situation, by offering to Irish audiences a unique opportunity to view works from an artist who has profoundly changed and influenced the way we understand and engage with art today.

The works in the exhibition are installed at the three venues as follows:

IMMA: So Different… and Yet, 1980;
Project Arts Centre: Box (ahhareturnabout), 1977; Untitled, 1998-2002;
Royal Hibernian Academy: Charon (MIT Project), 1989; Seeing for Oneself, 1987-88; Connemara Landscape, 1980.

Selection of images from the exhibition


Artist Bio

James Coleman was born in Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon in 1941. Since the 1970s, Coleman has exhibited extensively in international museums and galleries, including more recently the Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1994-95), Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne (1995), Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris (1996), Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (1999), Lenbachhaus-Kunstbau Städtische Galerie, Munich (2002), Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2002), and Museu do Chiado, Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea, Lisbon (2004-05). In 2003, Coleman developed a unique project at the Louvre in Paris for the exhibition Léonard de Vinci: dessins et manuscrits. In 2007, Coleman participated in Documenta 12 in Kassel, premiering his new work Retake with Evidence, 2007. In 2008, Coleman completed the successful showing at IMMA of his trilogy of pioneering works from the 1990s, with the slide installation Background, 1991-94, following the installation of I N I T I A L S, 1993-94, in 2006 and Lapsus Exposure, 1992-94, in 2007. The current exhibition is accompanied by a substantial new publication published in association with Thames & Hudson.