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Review: Willie Doherty Debuts at the Dallas Museum of Art

Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance
Dallas Museum of Art | May 24 – August 30, 2009

I have seen Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance at the Dallas Museum of Art and I liked it. I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Doherty this week and listen to his explanation of the art. The artist would like you, the viewer, to see the show without any preconceptions about the subject matter, but I think that would take away the true appreciation for the art.

So, I will summarize. Mr. Doherty (b. 1959) is from the town of Derry in Northern Ireland. Yes, that Derry, as in Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, Derry. Mr. Doherty was about thirteen years-old when The Troubles began. And as you and I know, a resolution to the conflict didn’t happen over night. He grew up with fighting between Ireland and Northern Ireland. As Mr. Doherty said, “Derry is still a contested space.”

Willie Doherty (photo by Mr. Holga)

Willie Doherty (photo by Mr. Holga)

That nugget of information gave me greater appreciation for Mr. Doherty’s work. Now I can discuss the exhibit.

Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance at the Dallas Museum of Art is a collection of 11 large photographs and a fifteen minute video work entitled Ghost Story (2007). The photographs and the video compliment each other quite nicely even though they were taken over a decade apart.

Let’s start with the video work, Ghost Story. As always the DMA knows how to present video works. Much like Bill Viola’s The Crossing (1996), Ghost Story is wonderfully presented in a pitch black room from floor to ceiling with only the light from the video as illumination. Walk carefully. Your eyes will adjust soon enough to find the only bench.

Ghost Story is a slow walk through a forest path with a narrator, Stephen Rae, describing his feelings and memories of his surroundings. The road is serene and beautiful and so is the sound of the narrator’s voice, but the tail he tells (written by Mr. Doherty) is where the ghosts come in to focus. The narrator describes a murder, a mysterious figure and eyes that peer back at you. It is well worth loosing yourself in Ghost Story for a few minutes. Now worries, the exit is on the right.

I am sure you will have seen the photographs before you saw the video, but take another look at them. See how they have changed. Did a road scene with two concrete blocks just become something different? Does a burned out car seem less like poor maintenance now? What really happened in the ruffled tall grass near the muddy tire tracks?

All eleven photographs are cibachromes on aluminum. The photographs were taken on a Mamiya 645 by Mr. Doherty in the 1990s. They are four by six feet in size and are displayed about eighteen inches off the floor. Why so low? Because Mr. Doherty would like you to experience the image as if you were there. “[That height] gives the photos a physical presence,” said Mr. Doherty. And I agree.

I enjoyed Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance because the work is good. I think a lot of viewers will walk out scratching their head, but there will be some viewers who get it. A photograph is sometimes more that just a photograph. I recommend seeing Willie Doherty: Requisite Distance along with Private Universes at the DMA.

Willie Doherty

Willie Doherty, born in Derry, Northern Ireland, is a two-time Turner Prize nominee (1994 and 2003). He studied at Ulster Polytechnic in Belfast. Mr. Doherty likes for his images to have multiple meanings. He represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Great Britain at the Sao Paulo Art Biennial in 2003 and Northern Ireland a the Venice Biennale in 2007.

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About Mr. Holga

Mr. Holga is our walkabout photographer and art reporter. Mr. Holga specializes in film photography, especially with Holga cameras. You can follow Mr. Holga on Twitter at or visit his website at

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