IMMA and Crawford Art Gallery boost national collection with €1.5m funding

Works by artists such as Joan Jonas, Daphne Wright and Clare Langan acquired, among many others

Of all the art made across the centuries, the work that survives is the work that has been collected. Barring awful accidents, collections keep things safe, and curators work to keep the art and objects they look after relevant. According to certain studies, we also value and prize art more the more we see it. The Mona Lisa is a case in point: tell people an artwork is incredible and important often enough, and it becomes the truth.

It’s fascinating to discover, therefore, what is being acquired for our own national collection as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) in Dublin and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork announce what they have purchased with the €1.5 million allocated by the Department of Arts last year (divvied up as €850,000 to Imma and €650,000 to the Crawford).

It’s a rich list, made more so, as Crawford’s director Mary McCarthy notes, due to a long post-recession hiatus in purchasing. “There are pretty seismic representation gaps,” she says. This current purchasing round builds on an initial €1 million fund shared in 2020 by Imma and the Crawford, which was aimed at supporting Irish artists during Covid.

So, what have they acquired, and what does it mean to the artists whose work has been bought? Imma has purchased 24 works by 17 artists, while the Crawford acquired 80 works by 40 artists. Christina Kennedy, senior curator and head of collections at Imma, says the ability to buy international works is significant: “When we’re looking at international practice, we’re thinking about it in its context – to expand the critical context for Irish contemporary art.”


She uses US artist Joan Jonas as an example, whose video work Woman in the Well connects directly to a residency the artist did at Imma in 1994. “She made works that drew on Irish mythologies such as Sweeney Astray,” says Kennedy. As an aside, a rare, signed first edition of the 1983 Field Day publication of Seamus Heaney’s beautiful version of Sweeney Astray is for sale with De Búrca Rare Books for €775,; while an inscribed first edition of the Faber publication, dated a year later, is with Ulysses Rare Books for €295,

As Kennedy describes it, a successful collection becomes more than the sum of its parts, opening conversations between works. “We’re able to return to certain thematics,” she says, “and fold in new work so that it maybe creates new stories and new perspectives”. One such piece is Daphne Wright’s extraordinary Stallion from 2009, which joins others of her works, including her 2014 film Plura, in the Imma collection.

A resin cast of a slaughtered stallion, covered in marble dust, Stallion was originally commissioned by Carlow County Council in an edition of two, the other of which is in a private collection in Turkey. “Having Stallion in the Imma collection means it can be seen by the public in an international context,” says Wright. “It also means I can now make new work.”

Three of Clare Langan’s works – films Flight from the City (2015) and The Heart of a Tree plus a photographic piece of the same name (both 2020) – have been bought by the Crawford. Langan describes how the process of making art can feel gruelling and thankless at times, and that the boost of being bought into the national collection is huge. “Both of these films are really important to me, and speak of the current climate crisis and the need for humanity to evolve in order for both humankind and the Earth to survive,” she says.

Other artists whose works have been purchased from this fund include Siobhán Hapaska, Patricia Hurl, Willie Doherty, Cathy Wilkes and Andrea Geyer at Imma, and Amanda Coogan, Rachel Ballagh, Mollie Douthit, Dorothy Cross, Laura FitzGerald and Fergus Martin at the Crawford. McCarthy notes that while Imma and the Crawford’s collections are distinct, they are working to open further access for sharing and lending with fellow institutions so that even more works can be seen by all.

Newly purchased works by Rachel Ballagh, Eithne Jordan, Dragana Jurišić and Nick Miller are on show at the Crawford in Bodywork until August 20th; with work by Rita Duffy in Persistent Illusion until October 8th. Daphne Wright’s films If you Broke Me and I am the Beginning are being shown online with Frith Street Gallery until August 6th. Clare Langan’s work is on show at the Sarah Walker Gallery, Castletownbere, until August 20th, and at The Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, until August 31st. Langan is in conversation with Angela Halliday at the Golden Thread Gallery on August 5th at 1pm.

Commissioning fund

Maybe making material for future national collections, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has announced its latest commissioning fund, with €12,000 for the successful artist to create new work for exhibition at DLR Lexicon. Previous recipients of the award include Gary Coyle, Cora Cummins and Aideen Barry. Barry’s film Klostės, which explores stories of modernism, is part of the recent Imma acquisitions. The closing date for applications is September 25th and details can be found at

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture