David Ireland, Untitled

David Ireland, Untitled, circa 1970, Sculpture, 3 x 12 x 10 in.

David Ireland, Untitled, circa 1970, Sculpture,
3 x 12 x 10 in.

WHAT MAKES IT ART? That’s the first question one might have when seeing this untitled sculpture by David Ireland. How can a vintage book with rough lumpy concrete bookends possibly be art?

David Ireland is presenting us with intriguing questions. What does the book contain? Where did it come from? What are the world’s greatest events and can they possibly be encompassed in one small book? And why place it between concrete bookends? To me the bookends suggest either construction — like mortar holding bricks together — or like seeing the rough, usually unseen, structure of a building.

The artist is surely offering viewers a lovely contrast in textures. Nothing feels quite like an old worn leather book to our touch. To have it supported by such unromantic gritty mounds of industrial concrete creates a playful counterpoint. Might he also be poking fun at the grandiose pronouncement of the book’s title by nestling it between two pieces of the world’s grittiest material?

Mr. Ireland, who died in 2009, is best known for transforming a run-down Victorian house in San Francisco’s Mission District into a home that was also a work of art. As he peeled back layers of materials, he exposed the story of the home and its former inhabitants, venturing into the nature of time and ordinary life as he went, with materials as mundane as wallpaper scraps, wire, brooms and rubber bands. Ironically, the pieces themselves become art in the process — offering a peek at the artist’s quiet sense of humor and Zen-inspired perspective. This sculpture, part of the Whatcom Museum’s permanent collection, takes on more meaning in this context. Perhaps the book came from that house?

Over time, he became well-known and respected for his work, which was exhibited in prominent institutions such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Center in Washington, D.C., and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and collected by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. We love the fact that Ireland was born (1930) and raised in Bellingham, attending Campus School, Bellingham High School and Western Washington University.

— Mary Jo Maute, Education & Public Program Coordinator