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What We Call Love Exhibition


What We Call Love Exhibition

The Irish Museum of Modern Art is currently hosting a major exhibition called ‘What We Call Love’ which is about how artist’s perception of love has developed over the 20th and 21st century.  The Artists look at significant changes in social culture during the 20’s, 60’s and 80’s and of how love is interpreted in modern times.  The exhibition includes almost 200 works of art from well-known artists Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Louise Bourgeois, Dorothy Cross, Yoko Ono, Wolfgang Tillmans and Nan Goldin.

The artwork is exhibited in three chapters, the East Wing, South East Wing Galleries, and among other areas of the museum.  The first section focuses on the Surrealist movement of the 1920’s.  The second portrays the unconventional love of the 1960’s, and the third looks at the difficulties within modern relationships.  Contemporary artists have re-discovered the meaning of love and how it has evolved over the years through sociological issues, marriage, romantic relationships, feminism and homosexual movements.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright.  He was an extremely influential artist of the 20th century.  He co-founded the Cubist movement and invented constructed sculptor and also co-invented collage.  He helped to define the revolutionary developments in plastic arts.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel was a French, naturalized American painter, sculptor and writer.  His work was about conceptual art, Cubism and Dada.  Along with Picasso and Matisse he helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts during the twentieth century.

Max Ernst

Max was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, poet, and a pioneer for the Dada movement and Surrealism

Yoko Ono

Yoko is a Japanese multimedia artist, singer and peace activist.  She is the widow of John Lennon.  Her work represents contemporary art.

Dorothy Cross

Dorothy is an Irish artist and her work includes sculpture, photography, installation and video.  She focuses her work on sexual and cultural identity, personal history and the gaps between memory and the conscious and the subconscious.

Man Ray

Man was an American visual artist who was a contributor to the Dada and Surrealism movements.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang is a German fine-art photographer.  He was the first non-English person to be awarded the Tate annual ‘Turner Prize’.

Victor Brauner

Victor was a Romanian painter and sculptor of surrealistic images.

Nan Goldin

Nan is an American photographer, her work is about LGBT related themes, public figures and images.

Louise Bourgeois

Louise was a French-American artist.  She produced sculptures and installations and explored domesticity and family, sexuality and the body, and death and the unconscious.  Although her work was similar to Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not associated with an artistic movement.

South East Wing Galleries

These rooms focus on Surrealism artwork.  Surrealism developed in the 1920’s in Paris after the first world war.  It was a different way of thinking about art.  Artists were trying to broaden their minds, while also rebelling from the modern art world.

Le Baiser (The Kiss) (1931) by Pablo Picasso

This picture has two heads, their mouths are wide open, with their teeth showing, and they are passionately and aggressively kissing.

Wedge of Chastity sculpture by Marcel Duchamp

This sculpture made of dental plastic and it is the colour and texture of flesh.  The wedge is cast bronze and it fits into the dental plastic.  They symbolise the union and love of a man and woman.  It was Duchamp’s wedding present to his second wife Alexina Matisse.

The Great Lover by Max Ernst

This abstract painting is of a man wearing a bowler hat and he is holding a small female shape. Her breasts are visible but her head looks like it has a curved shape.

While the man emerges out of an imposing block-like structure, the small female shape looks like a metronome.   I quite liked this painting even though I am not entirely sure I understood it.  I observed the female shape first because of her breasts, but it wasn’t as obvious if there was a male presence in the picture.


The Lovers by Victor Brauner

This symbolises the Tarot cards with a male magician and a female high priestess.  This represents the freedom of individuality and their unification through love.  I appreciated this picture because it was easy to comprehend.

Relache, 1967-1968 by Marcel Duchamp 

This is an etching print on Japanese vellum of a naked man and woman.  The man holds a leaf to his private parts.  This print reminded me of Adam and Eve and how they were embarrassed to be naked.


Mr and Mrs Woodman 1927 – 1945 by Man Ray

These were of a wooden man and woman making love in different positions. I found this artwork amusing.  They were cleverly constructed and intertwined.

The East Wing Galleries

These artworks are of Conceptual and Performance Art.  Conceptual art suggests that the artistic idea has more relevance than the visual, material form.

It contemplates the idea of art, and the artist’s inspiration about creating it.  There is a wide variety of video and photography presented in these galleries.

Montreal Bed-In (1969) by Yoko Ono

This was a black and white photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono while they were doing a Bed-in for peace in Montreal, during the Vietnam war.  I liked this photo of John and Yoko.  The image spoke to me; it was as if I was there with them taking part in the bed-in too.

Marina and Jean Christian in bed with baby Elio (2001) by Nan Goldin. 

This is a black and white photograph of a naked couple laughing while they are lying in bed, with their baby sitting beside them.

Initially I was surprised they were naked while their baby was in bed with them, but after contemplating, and looking at it some more, they looked so natural and happy, it just felt right.

 In Room 6

There are three black and white photographs and a video piece by the French Conceptual artist Sophie Calle.  Le Faux Mariage (1992), La robe de mariee (1988), Le Divorce (1992) and No sex last night (1995).  I didn’t really enjoy her art work.  Some of it was very graphic and it wasn’t to my taste.

In Room 8

There are Six large photographic prints by German artist Wolfgang Tillmansro.  Wolfgang’s work became known when he began focusing his art on London’s gay community.  One of his photographs called ‘Central Nervous System (2013) is the one which has been displayed on the front cover of IMMA’s brochure for this exhibition. I liked his work, it was easy to interpret.

Performance piece 24/7/365 (2009) by Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset

This has been re-staged and filmed live during the opening reception of ‘What We Call Love’.  Two young men sat on chairs on either side of a bed, then stood up, undressed and spooned on the bed, before dressing and sitting again. This will be performed live again and then re-staged, three more times over the course of the exhibition.  I liked this piece. I haven’t seen very much performance art before, and this was very different to any artwork I had seen before.

East Wing Galleries

The third chapter of the exhibition is about how contemporary artists view love in modern relationships, and of how people explore love, socially, culturally, spiritually and ethically.

It also features a commentary from Semir Zeki, an innovator in neuroesthetics, exploring the neurochemistry of love and beauty.

In Room 10

There are three sculptures displayed by French artist Louise Bourgeois.  She uses hard materials which are suggestive of masculinity, and soft biomorphic forms which are associated with femininity.  I didn’t really like these sculptures as I found it difficult to relate to them.

Towards the close of chapter three, Irish artist Dorothy Cross has exhibited three sculptures; Passion Bed (1990) Lover Snakes (1995) and Kiss (1997).   I didn’t enjoy this artwork; it just wasn’t appealing to me.


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