Throughout the past 25 years at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, John Hutchinson's singular vision has made a profoundly meaningful impact on the Irish and international art world; an achievement not alone accomplished through the distinctive programming of exhibitions, but also through his writing, which is unfailingly clear and enlightening.
On his departure at the end of 2016, the staff and the Board of the Douglas Hyde Gallery have invited artists, galleries, colleagues, and friends of John and the Gallery, with whom we have collaborated over the past three decades, to reflect on that time. Their responses are listed below.
What can I say about John and the Douglas Hyde Gallery…
That he always expected the best and you got the best as well. Rare.
I had the privilege of working closely with John Hutchinson during the first 10 years of his period as Director of the Douglas Hyde. That, and the ongoing friendship which followed from it, was not just a great pleasure but also an enriching experience for me. When I look at the full list of exhibitions on the Gallery website memories come flooding back. I can remember, for many of these exhibitions, having stimulating discussions with John which contributed significantly to my attitude and approach towards art and my appreciation of it.
Attention has been drawn to the distinctive character of the Gallery and of its programme, projecting as it does John’s curatorial vision. But that is only part of the story. The last thing that one could say of the Douglas Hyde is that its programme is predictable. John is a true eclectic. In Oxford he read Oriental Studies and this has left its mark. But he will wax eloquent on W G Sebald or Tony Judt, or on his informed interest in music or contemporary cinema as readily as on some obscure Chinese philosopher or medieval scholar. All of which provides sources and connections which combine with his awareness of the contemporary art world, and his web of connections within it, with artists and with curators, to produce the rich and varied programme of the Douglas Hyde, which has proved memorable for many of us and which has commanded international respect.
The creation of Gallery 2 in 2001 was a major event for the Douglas Hyde. It allowed new programming opportunities to run parallel exhibitions which might be closely linked, or otherwise complementary, or even unrelated. And because of the completely different scale of the two spaces it made possible types of exhibition which could not be contemplated in the main gallery. John has fully availed of all of these opportunities.
He has from time to time selected themes which have provided continuity within the programme. One of these was absence : presence suggested by its absence. The artist should not seek to provide answers to questions but more to create a space within which viewers may be led to not just interpret the work but through it to explore and develop their own ideas. It is interesting that John’s final exhibition as Director, the photographs of Josef Sudek, would appear to return to this theme in those haunting images, some of which seem to draw us into a world beyond the immediately represented scene.
John does not follow fashion, although he may at times have anticipated it. His concern is for the integrity and authenticity of what he has to offer. He is not a publicist for his work, although he writes eloquently about it. Nor does he make concessions to attract people to his exhibitions. But they do come, and he has a large appreciative following in Ireland and abroad who will miss him. We all wish him well in the future.
What I liked about dropping into John Hutchinson at the Douglas Hyde was that we always spoke about art. John wants opinions. He then accepts and rejects them to fit his own, like one of those bottom-dwelling, filter feeders! What is absorbed then crystallises with his passion for art. John’s Gallery 2 programme gave us access to so many treasures - showing that contemporary art expands in conjunction with such ancient relics. His beautiful series of small books carries that same sensibility compressed within words.
Throughout his tenure at the Douglas Hyde Gallery John consistently exhibited the work of young and emerging Irish artists. The quality of the exhibitions that John curated ensured that the prospect of showing at DHG was both a formidable challenge and an unparalleled opportunity and I was lucky enough to receive such an invitation in 1993. For me, part of the challenge was to be bold in negotiating the architecture of the gallery and John both questioned and supported my decision-making during a process that resulted in the slide /audio installation 30 January, 1972. Shortly afterwards, undoubtedly buoyed by my experience at DHG, I made The Only Good One is a Dead One, my first large scale two channel video installation.
Sad to learn that John has left the Gallery and I wish him joy and serenity for the future. My memories of John are rich with the sense of his warmth and integrity, his humour and critical rigour that brought some remarkable shows to the Douglas Hyde. As well, our mutual discovery that we 'loved' Zito, Garrincha, Santos, Didi, and Vava. (He will know....)
Love to you John.
Here is to John Hutchinson,
a special man who made the Douglas Hyde a special place.
He is tender, gentle, dark, humble, sophisticated, and uncool.
He knows that as a lover can die of a broken heart, so art can die from too much ego.
And even if us artists can be too filled with our selves, he knew how to make shows where it didn't show.
Thank you for everything. I raise a glass of whiskey to you.
I respect you for the exceptional and international exhibitions you have organized. Reminding my trips to Dublin bring back nice memories. We are very proud that five of the artists we are working with had a solo show at the Douglas Hyde Gallery: Marlene Dumas (1994), Mark Manders (1997 and 2011), Luc Tuymans (1999), Raoul De Keyser (2009) and Jockum Nordström (2010). It was always a great pleasure to work with you and the publications you made are very meaningful. Thank you. We wish you all the best for the future and would like to thank you for all the collaborations.
Frank Demaegd and Team, Zeno X Gallery
I write with appreciation for the opportunity to acknowledge and to remember the career of one of Ireland's very few original and independently-minded visionaries, unswerved, you felt, by popular opinion. He ploughed his own furrow with intelligence, a rare consistency and a fondness for ascetic and aesthetic values of a high order.
Marlene Dumas was early and worth a repeat now. Mike Nelson was unforgettable. Gerard Byrne, Fergus Feehily, Niamh O'Malley obviously next in importance!
Good luck in finding a worthy replacement. Keep it high.
1994. It seems so long ago. 1994 was when I had my first important solo show, familiar, at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. IMMA was still in its infancy and the DHG was the most important venue in Ireland, a launching pad for all aspiring young artists. Everyone went there, everyone wanted to show there, it was a fulcrum of energy and a powerful place. It launched me on a ‘career’, but more importantly it launched me in my own head; as a full time practicing artist – no going back. After this I gave up teaching and simply drowned in work. I remember very clearly going to John Hutchinson in a panic and asking for a 6-month postponement of the opening date. He has my eternal gratitude for agreeing to this, making time for that all-important final cohesion to arrive in the work before it was publicly shown. He has great skill in reading the work of artists, and great skill in placing and relating the works of artists. I regret that I never got a second chance to show in what Koyo Kouoh called the ‘most brutalist’ space in Ireland because I love that unique sparsity, the soaring walls, the view from the bridge, the backroom paradise, the overpowering feeling of silence, like being inside a giant brain … John’s brain.
When it came to unpacking my work at the Douglas Hyde, for the first show in 1995, each work was inspected, looked at from various angles and either accepted or put aside, reflected upon. During evening meals I was quizzed about them. Initially it somewhat unnerved me but at the same time John's curiosity was also a clear sign of his involvement.
Some years earlier in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin wall, I spent 10 days in Moscow. People's living conditions were very difficult, there were shortages of everything and food parcels were handed out by aid organisations. One day, on the bus to the centre of town, I was sitting behind a woman who was holding a very large tin of food in her hand. The label in German read: 'Rindfleisch im eigenen Soße' (Beef in it's own sauce). The woman was turning the tin round and round in her hands. She did not understand German and was obviously wondering what mysterious food was inside this tin.
John and I share a love for the writing of Robert Walser, and like Walser, John looks at the world as though seeing it for the first time. His inquisitive mind questions those things others take for granted. And like a proper 'dialectical phenomenologist' he not only looks at the world but also at himself, with much amazement and irony.
Since my exhibitions at the Douglas Hyde I have received a steady stream of John's poetic publications, in which his ideas on time and pace, distance and nearness, are always present. Every year we have long telephone conversations, in which John immediately cuts to the chase. We continue where we left off some months before but from a different perspective. John slows time down, with the need for stillness perhaps as a beautiful constant. For me John is always holding a tin of 'Rindfleisch im eigene Soße' full of open endings which he toys with in his hands.
Over nearly three decades, John has created and occupied a unique position in the Irish art gallery world, in which he protected himself largely by his eccentricities, his character, his spirituality. And not least his intelligence. His critical stance arose from these qualities, and was always insightful and creative.
This integrity was remarkable. And by it he made the Douglas Hyde Gallery, and indeed, Dublin as a centre of art internationally.
Speaking personally, as a spiritual friend and adviser, he gave from a deep generosity, and an almost secretive sense of humour. His friendship and sceptical warmth infused a reciprocation of similar quality.
John Hutchinson’s years at the Douglas Hyde Gallery made an enormous contribution to the visual arts in Ireland. His programme took care to show work not readily available in other public galleries, but of great interest whether in or out of fashion. This was made possible by his wide-ranging knowledge of art history and of contemporary international artists. He is also familiar with all aspects of the wider history of culture and philosophy.
His ability to choose and present works in a gallery with quite awkward hanging spaces was remarkable. He also supervised the design and production of excellent catalogues, in which he wrote outstanding texts.
John gave me an exhibition in Gallery 1 about 19 years ago. I was nervous about this - but I need not have been. We got on easily and over the years a firm friendship ensued. Long chats bout everything, but mostly about 'things', their beauty (and the mutual desire to collect some of them).
I also showed work in Gallery 2 based on his Leaves & Papers production of six artists' notes around their work. John loves things 'left as they are' and he suggested that my initial draft for this booklet was not to be tidied up or typed out. Just as is. That and his constant wish for me not to frame or box work, just to place it well, has been a very good education for me. Never to over control.
I love his Gallery 3 concept! It's not a place, but his and others's writing and books! I think I have the full collection of his own writings and in Quaker meetings I often read these to myself as my proper direction. Never theology.
John has only put one restriction on our friendship and conversations - 'death' as a subject! We both would ramble on deeper and deeper into that quagmire until he decided it was not useful. I can hear him now, shortly after that decision, at the end of a long phone call, when I slipped back into the forbidden topic suddenly; 'No, no, Paul, we had been doing so well up to this'. It was always hilarious.
We are very different in many ways and outlooks maybe, but also similar in so many ways too - part outsiders to Ireland, lovers of things and obsessional collectors, and both appreciators of all arts and crafts and outsider artists, across the board - the only decider being, 'Does it excite you somehow?'. If not, no labels will make it interesting.
John's main legacy for me will always be bringing here many artists outside the mainstream, art that is hugely interesting but often without the art machine's publicity, 'top 10' outlook to our shores. David Hendricks did that early on in a small way. John has done it in a huge way and I'm told this and other influences have made a big, big mark on the generation that grew up seeing all his exhibitions. I only hope that the committee and next Director keep that virtue going in some form or another. Otherwise it will become 'just another mainstream gallery' and not the unique place it has become in the last 25 years.
In the course of 20 years of traveling and making exhibitions, I don’t think I have had a curatorial host who was as welcoming as John was. And I count myself among the lucky ones who had the opportunity to work with him twice—once in 1998, and again in 2009.
The trip in 1998 was especially memorable, as it was also my first trip to Dublin. John wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the Dublin experience. Walks. Bookshops. Rock oysters and Guinness. Our conversations were memorable, and I still have a lot of them because I am deaf and John had to write for me everything he was saying. We talked a lot about dying fathers—mine had died only a week beforehand, but John managed to shape our conversation into a philosophical question about how to die. It sounds morbid, maybe, but it wasn’t. John’s singular kind of thinking about the conventions of art and life was truly refreshing. Our conversations wandered: about pencils; about how to use urine to fix dye colors; about gardens; and we also talked about the Beatles, and that particular conversation cost me a bottle of wine.
What happened is this: I was telling John about the experience of being deaf, and how, after so many years, it was hard to tell apart the things I had heard when I could hear, and the things I thought I heard, but hadn’t. Our conversation then turned to the Beatles, and how I still had some of their songs in my head, like “Let it Be.” John, curious, asked me: “Tell me again when you became deaf?” “1967,” I said. “You couldn’t have heard ‘Let it Be,’” John said. “It came out later than 1967.” I was so positively sure I had heard it, and that I knew John had to be wrong about this, so I said to him: “Want to bet a bottle of wine?” John smiled, and we shook hands.
Of course, John, the master of intricate details and nuanced memory, was right, and I was wrong. “Let it Be” wasn’t recorded until 1969, and released in 1970, as John later explained to me—but not without reminding me that I owed him a bottle of wine.
traurig dass du jetzt nicht mehr da bist wo wir uns vor vielen jahren
zum ersten mal begegneten.
Ich wünsche dir jetzt eine geruhsame zeit in deinem schönen haus auf
dem lande (oder bist du an einen andern schönen ort hingezogen?).
Immer herzlich willkommen in meinem haus hinter dem monte verita.
Hier ein foto von Hermann Hesse 1916 aufgenommen vor meinem
hauseingang in arcegno.
Mit herzlichem dank.
ich gönne dir deinen Ruhestand von ganzem Herzen obgleich die Erinnerung an unsere schöne und innige Zusammenarbeit beruhend auf Herzensverbundenheit und geistiger Koinzidenz auch Wehmut aufkommen lässt. Wieviel habe ich dir und deinem Wissen über Grenzgebiete der Kultur und Kunst zu verdanken, deinen wertvollen Empfehlungen zur Geschichte Irlands, Orte die ich ohne deinen Rat nie besucht hätte.
Wie schnell die Zeit vergeht! Wie schnell. Und wie gerne würde ich dir noch einmal begegnen, in Irland oder der Schweiz, die du ja immer einmal besuchen wolltest. Du weisst, bei Annelies und mir bist du immer herzlich willkommen.
Als Methapher für die Wiederkehr widme ich dir den Armreif Oroborus, der im Oktober 2004 an der Ausstellung im Kabinett zu sehen war.
Für deinen weiteren Lebensweg hoffe ich, dass alle deine Wünsche in Erfüllung gehen mögen.
My show at the Douglas Hyde gallery was my first institutional solo show. It was meant to have been a two person show with Jaki Irvine - in fact that is how I came to have a show at all, through her recommendation - but the ambition of both the projects convinced John to make two solo shows. This was 1999, the same year I built the Coral Reef at Matt's Gallery which opened in January 2000 and the year after a residency at Camden Arts Centre. The budget was relatively low, especially in relation to the size of the space and I had to think very creatively to somehow make the work I wanted. John was concerned and at some points slightly mystified by how I could achieve this. However despite these slight misgivings and with his blessings we made a date. I drove over in an old red Nissan pick-up full of tools and materials, John would bid me goodnight at the end of each evening and lock me in the space (I did have a key), appearing the next morning to access and discuss the progress. I think he was quite impressed by my gung-ho approach and pleased with the work - as was I. However it was the friendship we struck up that pleased me more, it was one that would carry on with long telephone calls discussing the lineage of my work in the decade that followed. In 2009, I returned in a similar manner to make a work for the Paradise space in Gallery 2, again the conversation flowed as did the work.
If you follow the roster of artists John has managed to work with over the years you can't help but be impressed, both that he persuaded them, and that he produced such beautiful shows. This is even more impressive as the budget is small and the gallery not a major museum at least not by name. John's ability to inhabit the work is something very special, giving the space a psychological charge. I was very lucky both to have shown with him and to have benefitted from his lasting advice.
He, and his 'charge' will be much missed in the gallery. I looked forward to it elsewhere...
John is an incredible person to work with, like a finely tuned instrument he is sensitive to a point that could be both fiercesome, but also incredibly kind and generous with his great mind. One had to earn his confidence and respect, once done the return far exceeded the effort.
Throughout the past 18 years of running my gallery I worked with a good number of different museums, institutions and public venues for contemporary art. None of which have presented such a personal and rigorous program as that of John Hutchinson's tenure at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin. I am proud that a number of my artists have had solo shows at John’s invitation, and been a part of a program that has such significant international kudos.
John's vision as a curator is totally singular, his voice throughout his programme clear, his exhibitions and publications both thoughtful and insightful. John has created an internationally credible venue for contemporary art at the Douglas Hyde, one which means so much for artists whom have shown there, and when we look back at the history of the Douglas Hyde programme we can really understand what it means, to understand context.
I started my visual arts career in the Douglas Hyde as a technician with little knowledge of installing work and indeed of the work itself. John was my early tutor and influence then and remains so today twenty years later. Whilst installing the Peter Doig there was some discussion between the artist and John over the placing of one of his paintings. John turned to the technicians to ask their opinion, thus involving us in the conversation with an internationally known artist. It demonstrated to me a person very different to the usual status approach of the art curator. He has been the most influential person on my visual arts involvement and in my thinking. Twenty years ago whilst taking down the Giuseppe Penone exhibition I was removing a small tree that had been part of the installation and asked John if I could take it home to plant in my garden. My eight-year-old daughter now climbs that tree.
Mark St.John Ellis
I aways felt that John as a curator had a 'Transparent Eyeball'. The consistent aura of his exhibitions at the Douglas Hyde Gallery was one of listening and meaningfulness.
As a fairly new board member of the Douglas Hyde Gallery, I arrived at the opening of the 2001 Venice Biennale bearing several copies of the book Patmos, hot off the presses. This exquisitely presented testimony to the previous five years of John Hutchinson's programme astonished everyone who saw it. Featuring, among others, Marlene Dumas, Peter Doig, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mark Manders, Mike Nelson, Rivane Neuenschwander, Paul Thek, and Luc Tuymans, alongside various Irish artists, it bore witness to a unique and prescient vision from the edge of Europe at a very particular moment in time.
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith
I have especially responded to John's concept of The Paradise - intimate, selective exhibitions of material culture from around the world, focusing on small, ethnographic, traditionally designed, indigenous craftsmanship sometimes complementing the exhibition in the main gallery from 2001 onwards.
Among these I especially remember: Mongolian Folk Drawings, Coptic Textiles, Chanteh Iranian textiles, Japanese country textiles, Berber textiles from the Atlas Mountains, Indian matchbox labels, Turkmen and Uzbek children's clothes, Boucherouite rag rugs from Morocco, Seanie Barron's unique guiding sticks, and Wolf Kahlen's Tibet's Tibet and Mongolia's Mongolia.
And among the many exhibitions he conceived, guided and set up in customarily spare installations at the Gallery with attendant publications, poems, films, recitals, sometimes supplemented by his own carefully produced treasures of books, I particularly recall the: Shiva Linga paintings, Kouzaki Hiromu's Grandfather's Envelopes, Jockum Nordstorm's While the Mortar Dries drawings and collages, the eccentric Antigua-based Frank Walter, Peter Doig, Louise Bourgeois, Paloma Varga Weisz, Francis Upritchard, Serge Charchoune, Merlin James, Lois Weinberger, and Ciarán Murphy. Where else could you see Kathy Prendergast's exquisite Black Maps enhanced by Josef Sudek's ethereal photographs?
Nowhere in Ireland, let alone elsewhere, could such riches be seen in a surprisingly sympathetic, non-commercial, not-for-profit space where they were displayed with the necessary sensitivity and appreciation by someone who understood their significance. And let's hope John's legacy will live on in those who worked with him as students as well as staff...as well as the many who were privileged to see the exhibitions.
All good wishes,
Nicola Gordon Bowe
I am so sad that you are leaving the Douglas Hyde Gallery! It’s such a loss for all the artists and art lovers, for your programme was really outstanding, your exhibitions had that special something, that can not be replaced so easily. Fortunately, your artistic legacy remains: the wide rage of such beautiful and creative books you edited and the sensitive and meaningful texts you wrote.
I’m really grateful having been part of your exhibition programme. The photo book Darkened Days you made for me is my most beautiful one together with Home. To work with you is unforgettable.
I hope you will stay involved with art. And for your future life in the countryside, I send you a quince from the quince tree published in Home.
With best wishes.
Yoshihiro Suda and Gallery Koyanagi would like to send heartfelt thankfulness to John for our collaboration with him for the exhibition Ma in 2004. Suda always recalls the exhibition as a wonderful memory and especially enjoyed the related publication with John. We wish John all the best in his new endeavors.
Yoshihiro Suda and Sho Kuwajima, Director, Gallery Koyanagi
As Chair of the Board of Directors of the Douglas Hyde Gallery 2006-2014 I learned to admire John Hutchinson’s remarkable blend of tough-mindedness and sensitivity, principle and humanity. John’s refusal to market the Gallery more aggressively could be exasperating, but it was worth it to sustain a Gallery that did not please some people but whose quiet exploration of work and ideas at the margins did more to expand aesthetic sensibilities and possibilities than did many more glamorous and clamorous approaches in other places. The Douglas Hyde Gallery under John’s directorship was moreover (ironically, since attracting famous names is the kind of superficial indicator John’s detractors often espoused) a Gallery whose ability to spot major artists well before they became world names far outlived its modest budget.
I think back on my six years at the Douglas Hyde Gallery with the fondest of memories. During that time, John generously shared his immense knowledge from a broad range of fields, guiding both myself and my colleagues to achieve potential that we didn’t know we had. Over the years, I was constantly fascinated by how John’s interests pushed the boundaries of contemporary exhibition-making, resulting in carefully-considered shows that created unexpected associations or juxtapositions that sparked off and enlivened each other, ensuring an innovative, world-class gallery programme.
There are many interests and discoveries from John’s programme that I have carried away and still hold with me: the stories woven within Persian rugs, the aesthetics of wabi sabi, the rawness of Nepalese shamanic objects and the many artworld outsiders to which he opened the gallery doors.
I am incredibly grateful to John for affording me the opportunity to work at the Douglas Hyde Gallery and for all the wisdom, music, conversations and laughter we shared over the years. I hope we will continue to do so for many more.
My generation of papists was barred from entering Trinity. Our souls were at stake. When John Hutchinson erected a large white banner with my name on it on the railings outside the Douglas Hyde, in which for three months he continuously showed my three Atlantean films, my parents may have turned in their graves. John was not only defying prejudice, he was announcing to the fine art brigade that film was not merely a vulgar entertainment; it could be a valid art form. Ironically his taste was the most catholic of all - non-exclusive and open-minded. He was among the first to ‘abattre les cloisons’ and he opened the gates to many young artists who proceeded, without shame, to explore this art of the twentieth century. I salute him.
I am deeply indebted to John and the Douglas Hyde Gallery’s programme in forming much of my creative development. I have learned so much from my visits to the Gallery over the past twenty years and have been exposed to so many carefully considered ideas. These interwoven ideas were beautifully made manifest as music, exhibition making and writing.
I had the great pleasure to perform as a musician in the Gallery and to make an installation in Gallery 2 as part of the Paradise series.
As an educator I feel its terribly important that our public institutions have a pedagogical function both for students and the broader creative community and we as a community were / are remarkably fortunate to have an aspirational space like the Douglas Hyde and John’s diverse poetic programming in Dublin.
Over the years the Douglas Hyde’s publications and in particular John’s writing became an enormous source of inspiration, a section from his book The Bridge was the motivation for a collaborative music project and exhibition I curated at The Mattress Factory Art Museum in Pittsburgh PA entitled A Generous Act.
Strangely when I think of our conversations what always comes to mind is not art or music but John’s insight into Brazilian football and in particular Ronaldinho and the particular brand of football Barcelona and Arsenal were playing at the time.
John Hutchinson gave me my first break early on in my development as an artist. We met through my friend the musician Chan Marshall aka Cat Power, who performed at the gallery in the autumn of 2005. After nearly 10 years of working as an editorial portrait photographer I had just expanded my practice into fine art: I was battling with certain aspects of digitalisation, globalisation and hyper-capitalism, and expressing this visually had become a necessity, a way to make sense of it all. The weekend I spent in Dublin with Chan gave me the opportunity to discuss the core ideas of this early work with John and I’d asked him whether he’d be up for giving me feedback on a first edit of images I’d created.
I sent him a PDF, he liked it and - totally unexpectedly - decided to commission me to create a photographic essay on Ireland and the Celtic Tiger, then at its peak in 2006. These images were used in the book Alabama Chrome and put on display in Gallery 2 in late 2006 - early 2007.
Since then the dialogue on art and life with John has never ceased and fed into my work consistently. Thank you John.
Before John Hutchinson departed from the Douglas Hyde Gallery I made certain of two things; that I become a Patron, and that my collection of his publications was complete. In some way their modest appearance, single pantone shades, thoughtful texts and tidy graphic layout embodied their creator. Taking time to revisit John’s tenure at the gallery and the much-admired books has been special. I will be forever grateful for the approach to curating he inspired early in my career with its emphasis on emotional attitude and ethical values. Later his approval and encouragement in all my professional pursuits proved invaluable to decision making. His contribution to the cultural landscape in Ireland and beyond its shores has been remarkably influential. How I proudly define the evolution of our relationship, employer—mentor—friend.
We have said it before and we will say it again: between 2001—2008 you provided us with exhibition after exhibition of non-euclidean adventures in transcendental mountain climbing – always a challenging walk that never took us down the same path. Though the impact of our studies were wide, the depth of the impact by the Douglas Hyde Gallery couldn’t have been made by any art college along the swirls of the Milky Way.
From the cracked concrete outside that elongated window that hosted a small site-specific plant to Koo Jeong-A’s enigmatic Land of Ousss. From Orozco’s sparse broom to Huts. Not to mention Jandek’s covers or Mamma Andersson’s rag rug room with the acoustic guitar. Or Laura Owen’s paintings and Verne Dawson’s humour. Matthew Monahan’s talk and Josephine Foster’s concert. Some of many precious and unusually meditative moments in the centre of the city.
To have been able to work with you on exhibitions as well as books has been purely inspirational. The building will surely miss your presence and we can’t imagine Dublin without the Douglas Hyde we knew – and feel so indescribably fortunate to have been planted by near accident on the isle at this precious moment in our, as well as the gallery’s, time.
Nothing is far away
Everything is near
And the painting on the wall
Warmly yours and hope to see you soon
The first piece of writing I ever had published was a pamphlet entitled My Internship at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. It was 2009, Ireland was on the slow-slide into recession, and Dublin was – I began by remarking – a city of “many art graduates” and “few job opportunities”. I continued with a resoundingly positive account of my 9-month stint at the Douglas Hyde Gallery – summarising all the constructive skills and practical knowledge I acquired and noting how the experience had even culminated in the offer of a real job.
But roughly half way through the pamphlet, I did something of a U-turn. “Far more significant and enduring than any of this,” I wrote, “was what I would call the ‘unpractical wisdom’ that I could not have gained anywhere else.” Then I doubled back to the version of myself I had been when I first arrived at the gallery, 23 years old, an ambitious art graduate “determined that the studentship would represent the first rung on the ladder to becoming a famous artist.” I had wanted so desperately to be what the American author, Jenny Offill, termed in Dept. of Speculation an ‘art monster’ – a person who moves and shakes with all the appropriate movers and shakers, who forsakes intuition and empathy and contemplation for cleverness and strength and success.
But I did not get what I expected. Instead, I found that the environment I ended up in had an atmosphere and ethos thoroughly unique to itself, that it was “by far the most anti-establishment establishment” I had ever encountered. I turned down the job which was offered to me, because, by the time I reached the end of my stint, all that I’d learned in the gallery had – subtly, circuitously – persuaded me that I didn’t want to be an art monster any more.
“This covert ‘de-institutionalisation’”, I wrote, “is something that has affected me far beyond the passive acquisition of a list of practical skills, and is undoubtedly the aspect that will shape the choices I make from here onwards.”
Nowadays, when I am asked about my influences, I might mention Franny & Zooey, The Rings of Saturn, Steppenwolf, Walden, or the graphite grid compositions of Agnes Martin, the pollen squares of Wolfgang Laib, the soot and spit drawings of James Castle, or the films of Kelly Reichardt, the songs of Nick Drake, Persian rugs, Japanese tea bowls, Tibetan Kalachakra sand mandalas, a particular photograph of Robert Walser lying on his back in the snow… But what I always fail to mention – partly because his influence is so difficult to quantify, partly because most people would not know who I was talking about – is the man who introduced me to all of these things, John Hutchinson, and the series of books he authored, from 1997’s The bread and butter stone to 2016’s The Tree.
In the preface of 2014’s Pearl Fishers, John writes: “I am convinced that a substantial proportion of our cultural and aesthetic tastes are rooted in key events that were enjoyed or suffered in early adult life, and that it serves us well to become conscious of this.” I will always think of the Douglas Hyde Gallery, and the director who has defined it for the past twenty-five years, as the key event of my early adult life, the source of my sensibility, the outset of my subversive education. His are the texts to which I have returned most consistently over the years – for the depth of thought and breadth of ‘unpractical wisdom’ they embody – sometimes in search of advice, and sometimes, of solace.
Most of us don’t know what we want so we spend our time acquiring objects, all the stuff that the modern world has to offer. And most of it bought in IKEA. I believe that at some point in western culture’s recent history objects had to become useful in order to take place in the western world. If it did not have a use it was useless and should either not be made or thrown out, either way it was the end of sculpture in the world. It wasn’t until I discovered a work, an object, a sculpture in the Douglas Hyde Gallery that I realized how much I appreciated the silence of the thing sitting quietly in the corner of a large room. The possibility of the object, one that didn’t come with instructions, as being revelatory through mystery. This combined with clear, transparent, thoughtful prose gave me my heading.
Dearest John Hutchinson,
Thank you for making my show at the Douglas Hyde Gallery a shining moment in my time as an artist. Having someone like you champion the work at an early stage has been instrumental in my growth. Your integrity is rare in this world and you have made a benchmark for what to desire from an experience of showing work. As far as the publication side of your endeavor is concerned, there really is nothing that compares. I look at all of the books I have from DHG and they have been inspirations of those we have created ourselves for the artists and writers we have worked with.
Thank you for letting me be a small part of this journey and I hope to see you again in the future soon!
Matthew Day Jackson
The most memorable moment of my collaboration with John came at the rural post office here in Georgia as I was attempting to ship two large boxes of, well, garbage that I'd, over the course of many years, scavenged out of various garbage cans and dumpsters in the area I live in. The shipping cost was pretty hefty and the postal clerk stared dubiously at the declaration line on the customs form dealing with contents.
"Garbage", I had written.
It took a bit of explaining to convince the clerk to agree to send those boxes and I dare say that likely was a first for the Irish customs agents as well. No doubt suspicious, they surely opened the boxes only to find just that---garbage; old torn photographs, scraps of paper from journals and ledger books, discarded religious pamphlets, price tags and broken headlights and doll heads and rusty tin cans and more and more.
When first approached by the gallery I knew nothing about John's pedigree in the art world. All I knew was that my manager had instructed me to swing by some art gallery in Dublin before I played a show there, presumably to discuss a possible exhibition. Since I'm not known as a visual artist I found this resolutely odd. Driving into town I'd envisioned a tacky little commercial place run by a frazzled, slightly overzealous fan of my music.
I wondered how this guy knew I'd dabbled in visual art---mind you just as a hobby. I had no track record anywhere, much less in the proper art world and so was just this side of flabbergasted when I walked into the elegant gallery. I met with John and we spoke at length about music, spiritualism, life, everything but art. Eventually he asked me to, once I got home, send him some ideas for an installation in the smaller room in the gallery. As it turns out he had no idea I made visual art---he'd asked me to do an exhibit based solely on the unorthodox ideas presented in my music.
I've been a hobbyist photographer and filmmaker my whole life and so envisioned rows of my photos being neatly displayed along the walls of the smaller gallery, should John so approve, so once home I sent him a collection of images that I thought were top notch. John's response was not enthusiastic. So I sent some rather disturbing drawings I'd done over the years and again, John was not enthusiastic. Apparently my photos were not edgy enough and my drawings were too much so. Ah, life.
It looked like things weren't going to work out, when, really as an afterthought, I sent John a photo of a large cork bulletin board that I called my "Weird thing bulletin board". It measured three feet by four feet and had hung on a wall in my studio for years. It was essentially a repository for the disparate bits of ephemera, objects that I'd found in my marginal ramblings across the US south: love notes, yellowed obituaries, paper clips bent into the shape of heart, like that. This John liked. He replied something to the effect of, "Yes, ten of those and we should be fine."
Of course I didn't have ten weird thing bulletin boards---I had only that one. Thankfully I'm an inveterate packrat and so had plenty of garbage---I mean art supplies--- to comb through. Combing through the pile of junk with the idea of repurposing them was both fun and profoundly validating---like, "See, I'm not a hoarder, I'm an artist. That gallery guy in Ireland says so." Thank you John.
Since that first exhibition I've mounted several more such exhibitions in celebrated galleries, both in the US and abroad, all of them contacting me after reading about Deep Friend Ephemera, the exhibition we ultimately staged at Douglas Hyde. I'm so grateful to John for offering me the chance to turn my garbage into art. We need more of that sort of aesthetic alchemy in our world, now don't we?
The Douglas Hyde Gallery certainly cast a spell over me in the late 70s and early 80s when I visited it from school. I still remember the brilliant Keinholz show’s smell! For us in the 80s, before Museums of Modern Art in Ireland and Ryanair cheap travel existed, it was very important, influential place.
People always said what a tricky space it was to show in, with its brutalist shapes. I didn’t care at all about that, thought it was just great. I love a bunker. It was strong. Work looked really good there. The work had better be strong.
John Hutchinson worked really well in that space, all those delicate and strong shows hinted at other worlds, at inner spaces. The gallery as a kind of garden where John planted all these many artist's images and ideas. I loved and I think shared these interests. All the shows he curated all had a very pointed curiosity, a single minded enquiry into the Otherworld, some kind of reality and our perception of that reality.
I remember him sneaking me down to walk amongst Christian Boltanski’s piles of luggage in the main space.
I remember him pouring a pile of bee pollen into my hand from Wolfgang Laib's show. I think he wanted to be sure I was given a chance to see what he was seeing. His books were like that, these distilations of questions. I have them by the bed at home.
John's is a discerning, sharp eye and mind, humourous, tricky and incorrigible, challenging, impatient of bullshit.
John has been very generous to me. He showed my work in the Douglas Hyde in 2009. It made me feel like a king I have to admit. He had written about various shows of mine in the late 80s for In Dublin and the Irish Press. The show was really another point in our relationship.
I am very happy to have been part of the garden.
I recall going into the DHG to see the Anselm Kiefer show and the carpet was gone, the true "brutalist" nature of the space revealed. Saturday afternoons then would mostly involve a trip down the stairs and I saw so many things I had been completely unaware of. It would not I think be any exaggeration to say that the DHG changed the art landscape in Ireland.
Later on I showed in the DHG myself. Working with John meant a lot of conversation, on and around the work. The scope of these conversations was broad, poetry, music, mortality, all manner of visual art, nothing much was not for consideration. These conversations were at times deeply serious, funny, elliptical and even on occasion contradictory but always interesting and as such a mirror of the programme he put on at the DHG over the last 25 years.
After my final year of Art History in Trinity in 2009 I was lucky enough to get part-time work as an invigilator in the Douglas Hyde Gallery. The role was quite simple - greet those coming into the gallery, offer them information about the current exhibition, sell some books - but it had a significant impact on my development as a writer. John treated us as equals; he would sit and discuss each exhibition with us, we were invited to eat with the artists after the openings and, most importantly for me, we were encouraged to read the art magazines and exhibition catalogues on offer and to either read or write while we sat at the invigilator desk. This gave me abundant time and inspiration to start my career as a writer and it was one book in particular - The Bridge - written by John himself which had a profound impact on me and still continues to encourage and dazzle me with each reading. In 2016 I finally published my collection Illuminate, which explores the transcendent nature of art. I will be forever grateful to John for allowing me time to write, for the wonderful people I met working there and for his beautiful, singular vision.
What brought us together was your deep interest and belief in the spiritual aspects of all kind of arts, and your personal and professional search into the roots of creations, whenever they were honest additions to the incredible concept of man and the globe. And far beyond.
Artists seem to have had and do have the urge by themselves to testify what a generous concept an unnameable creator or an energetic mind - of whatever immateriality or energy - had 'designed'. And to try to understand its bias and to reveal as many insights into those as possible. This is what art is about: Tireless curiosity in the unknown.
John, you are curious like an unspoiled child, asking existential questions. You wanted to see my video documents on / in / about Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayas. And so I showed them at Douglas Hyde Gallery to you and others. What we talked about, we could not show unless we had taped it down. It would have been worthwhile.
I especially enjoyed John’s exhibitions in the gallery called The Paradise which presented fantastic and often rare examples of world textiles. I am not sure what John’s thoughts are on Baluchs (or war rugs). This gouache drawing was made when I came across it in Derry, Northern Ireland in 2015. The rug belonged to Colin Peck of Prehen House, who had purchased it in Kabul while reporting on the war in Afghanistan.
During my time working as an invigilator in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, John offered me the opportunity to design a reading list for an autumn discussion group. While meeting with him to discuss what shape it might take, John introduced me to a rich variety of cultural references which have stayed with me ever since. But the reference that particularly altered my mindset at the time and the one which hints to me at John's way of seeing, was a version of the song I'm New Here by Gil Scott Heron, written by Bill Callahan. The song's chorus,
‘Turn around, turn around, turn around
And you may come full circle
And be new here again’
reminds me of the sense of novelty and wonderment that is evident in John's writing, collecting and programming. This is not something that is often carried throughout an entire career and is to me, the most extraordinary of his many achievements. I'd like to thank John for so frequently pointing me in the direction of newness.
The Douglas Hyde Gallery has held a wonderful programme of exhibitions under John’s directorship and in a era of shrinking university budgets and withdrawal of funding from cultural programmes this is a very fine achievement indeed. The Alice Neel exhibition that I was involvedin not only looked wonderful in what can be a very difficult space, but was brilliantly organised and imaginatively conceived. Without John’s enthusiastic input this would have been a lesser exhibition.
I can't say how much it has meant, doing the projects I did at the Douglas Hyde, working with John. His shows and beautiful publications have been so consistently engaging, and the seriousness and integrity of the venue has come to be recognised all over the world. The 'credo' texts that John has issued occasionally, interspersed with the exhibition publications, gave an insight into the ideas and sensibility that he brought to the the exhibitions and events at Trinity.
But this is reading like some formal tribute to John's achievements at Douglas Hyde, and they require no endorsement from me or anyone else. I'd just like to thank John again for the opportunities and pleasure of working together.
The Strength of Weakness.
Thank you John for everything.
Artists often have narrow, deeply focused minds. Selfishly so, sometimes. They obsess and refine and dive deep into their holes. You live a narrow life winnowed down to the grain that matters for your art, its materials and matter. Then, you are forced up. A fisherman has you and pulls you up, alive, to breathe in the bigger airs, the bigger ocean. He shows you a world with other lives, other lights. He shows you the beauty of all that glimmers in the shining seas. And you look at your fellow obsessives, your fellow artists, painters, fabric designers, ceramic makers, photographers, poets, musicians, writers, and you learn about this life, about this world, about the spirits that inhabit it, and you have deep gratitude to the human being who showed this to you, and you and you. Thank you John. You are a beacon.
A solo exhibition in the Douglas Hyde Gallery under John Hutchinson's direction has been the dream of Irish artists for a very long time. A few years ago I was invited to the gallery for an informal meeting, out of the blue. After a few minutes of blushing, sweating and stuttering, I relaxed into a wonderful and lengthy conversation with John about art, life and everything in between. After two exhibitions together we still continue this conversation and I am hugely grateful to John for his generous spirit, his inspiration, and above all for his many, many exhibitions at the gallery, which formed my idea of art more than any other public space.
Eoin Mc Hugh
John, you will be missed! x
Subtle essayist, quietly authoritative and uncharacteristically self-effacing curator, John Hutchinson's achievement is marked by gentleness, refinement, lightness of touch. He values the anonymous, the commonplace, austerity of means, but seizes on richness of symbol and meaning. He imposes no fixed narrative and allows makers, objects and images to speak for themselves. He sets up dialogues. Works vibrate and resonate across time and space. His method echoes the Tao, true power seems weak, true purity seems tarnished, the greatest art seems unsophisticated. He is imaginative when purse strings are tight and generous with his collaborators. The new Director of the DHG will do things very differently, and will do this best by studying carefully what John has accomplished and reading thoughtfully all that he has written.
Wishing you many views and journeys John, filled with images old and new.
John seemed a very nice person, completely the right thing and great to work with. I'm sorry he's going.
In 2013, I got an email from John Hutchinson asking about my neighbour Seanie Barron who for decades has made walking sticks in a workshop at the back of his house here in Askeaton. Having explained that Seanie, like many of his generation, is a technophobe, and that he doesn’t do email and only occasionally uses a mobile phone, John decided to soon make the trip to Askeaton to visit him in January 2014. The day passed quickly in pleasurable company, John offered Seanie an exhibition at the Douglas Hyde later that year. Seanie showed over fifty of his sticks in the show, most of them made that summer, and it was the first time his work was exhibited outside of his native town. One of the most memorable moments was watching John head off with a bunch of Seanie’s crafted walking sticks under his arm - he couldn’t resist purchasing a few before heading back to Dublin! It was a pleasure to work with John in the months after that first meeting, and the care and gentle attention he gave to Seanie in making his first major exhibition was so generous, nurturing a then-unknown craftsman into national prominence.
I met John for the first time recently when the DHG showed my film Boujeloud about the Sufi Master Musicians of Joujouka at one of the regular Thursday evening events.
It made perfect sense to me that John would show an observational film about musicians from a small village in Morocco having read many of his books accompanying DHG shows.
The first show I saw at DHg was Anselm Kiefer in 1990. The most recent was guitarist Cian Nugent in January 2017.
In between it has been his books that have had the most impact on me in fact. Even the shortest of which I return to and re-read frequently.
Many of John’s books I read not having seen the exhibitions in question but the impact of the shows is still immediate and absolutely accessible. Often the books set me off on tracks of exploration that I never would have expected to go down and haven't come back from.
Unexpectedly warm, John’s books to my mind are a kind of votive; and similar to John Berger reading them gives an palpable sense of being held.
I assume there will be more and look forward reading them.
The Douglas Hyde Gallery was where I saw the artworks that first really made an impact on me when I was in school and in college. John's uniquely thoughtful books too were part of that remarkable education. So it has been a particular privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know John and to work with him over the past couple of years.
Every good wish to John now and a very big thank you.
John Hutchinson's The Tree pauses on note after note that resonates with me. Together they sound a diapason I don't want to forget. Quietness. Wilderness. Vulnerability. Undifferentiated emptiness. And the ten thousand things that arise spontaneously from emptiness. A healthy wilderness of mind.
We are, as John Hutchinson says, culturally so averse to quiet.
This book is a goodbye to directing a gallery in Dublin and a hallo to whatever form of withdrawal the author might choose, whatever essay in idleness turns out to be his, on whatever mountain top. His last chapter is on Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution.
Maybe John Hutchinson's withdrawal from the gallery will involve the kind of farming that can coexist with the understanding that in this world there is nothing at all.
Well, there is Schubert.
I knew the shows before I knew John. And the shows were great.
Later, when I got to know him a bit, we were talking about happiness and I sent him a short passage from Nicolas Bouvier’s travel book The Way of the World:
“East of Erzurum the road is very lonely. Vast distances separate the villages. For one reason or another we occasionally stopped the car, and spent the rest of the night outdoors. Warm in big felt jackets and fur hats with ear-flaps, we listened to the water as it boiled on a Primus in the lee of a wheel. Leaning against a mound, we gazed at the stars, the ground undulating toward the Caucasus, the phosphorescent eyes of foxes. Time passed in brewing tea, the odd remark, cigarettes, then dawn came up. The widening light caught the plumage of quails and partridges... and quickly I dropped this wonderful moment to the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again. You stretch, pace to and fro feeling weightless, and the word ‘happiness’ seems too thin and limited to describe what has happened. In the end, the bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say or think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously; our feeble hearts could not stand more”
John, with his shows and books, draws our attention in the same way to such small miracles, quietly and tenderly. His programme took great joy in vitality and in mystery and grace. When I read the passage now - the widening light - I cannot help thinking about Willie McKeown and his luminous, humming ever changing paintings.
Along with Aleana Egan, Kathy Prendergast, Nina Canell, and Bill Lynch - he showed me a way. John is unafraid, open, reflective, serious, sometimes curt, occasionally gossipy, always gently attentive and he cultivated a vivid paradise out of the Douglas Hyde. I’m looking forward to what he does next.
The Douglas Hyde Gallery has always expressed the highest values of Trinity College by engaging in work of international importance. I congratulate John Hutchinson in achieving so much for Irish art.
Patrick Prendergast, Provost, Trinity College, Dublin