In 1943, a group of artists rebelling at the closed, conservative, ‘tennis club’ institutions for art, decided to stand together and do something about it.  The Irish Exhibition of Living Art, which was created and thrust into being in that meeting, was not just a response to not being in ‘the club;’ it was arguably the incentive, or perhaps the incendiary, that sparked the atmosphere that allowed many or most of the opportunities available to Irish-based artists today- The Arts Council, Culture Ireland and the Percent For Art scheme, among others.
By its dissolution in the 1980’s, The Irish Exhibition of Living Art had already exhibited a significant force on Irish art, and had successfully managed what many institutions fail to do- make way for newer memes and ideas. With any iteration, though, something of the original form is always lost.
There is still a group of artists who call themselves Living Art; this is by no means a challenge or contest with them for the name. Rather, this is both an homage and a ‘picking-up of the torch’ of the impetus that led to the creation of the exhibition.   The very nature of contemporary art has changed so much since the declaration of the name, ‘Living Art,’ that a current reading of it could easily confuse it as just performance-based work, although it originally was a reference to the simple fact that these artists were still kicking around and breathing [compared the Dead White Males that had predominantly commanded wall space up until then]. I like to understand “New Living Art’ from yet a third interpretation- that aesthetic meaning comes to us not from linguistics or propositions, but rather, like Mark Johnson suggests, that our first and deepest level of meaning is embodied and visceral- that all of our meaning originates from our bodies interacting with our environments.  When we ‘feel’ music, or the colours of a painting or the tension in a performance artist’s body, it is because our living bodies understand, and we apply that understanding to the art we experience.
There is new, exciting, challenging art happening in Ireland, but the popular face of Irish art, some argue, has grown into, or never grown out of, a very conservative position.  That may or may not be because of the Celtic Tiger, and the rampant, heady consumerist mentality that understandably bled into almost every facet of the economy.  More than ever, purchasing art could be seen as a status symbol, and if it was a little ‘out-there,’ but not so out there that there wasn’t still some thing that could be bought, held onto, sold off… then so much the better.  You could have burnt wood and paint on the wall, but if you could have a projection involved somehow, well… at least there was still a commodity there, and it showed you had the money to pay for it.
That might be a harsh accusation, but it is an accusation of the economics of an industry, not a critique of those making the work. And to be sure- good, challenging work has been made in Ireland; otherwise there would be no reason for this show.  And there is a reason for this show- especially now…
The New Living Art Exhibition is not a knee-jerk, reactionary event; it is not a salon refuse. It is a celebration of, and a bridge between, the artists of the past who had the courage and drive to create their own opportunities when presented with no other alternative, and the artists who, today, are taking every opportunity that is now available.  The artists who created the IELA stated that, “the function of the exhibition shall be to: make available to a large public a comprehensive survey of significant work, irrespective of School or manner, by living Irish artists.”  As we hurl increasingly faster into the future, not only has that large public been presented with an increasingly challenging idea of what is significant art, but also of what it means to be Irish.
As an artist-led institution, IMOCA has initiated this project not only as an opportunity to support the practices of the most creative and experimental artists who take advantage of the opportunity to participate, but also as a chance to widen the network of artists and practices from which future shows can be developed: IMOCA will be working to create a body of sponsors and patrons willing to back the purchase a piece of work every year of TLNA Exhibition.
Finally, I want to thank all of the artists who have contributed and donated their time, knowledge and efforts to IMOCA, exhibiting that same courage and drive to create new opportunities.

K Bear Koss, Director

group of artists:

Irish Exhibition of Living Art

Living Art-