Visual arts professor's works chosen for Irish Museum of Modern Art collection

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Helen O'Leary, professor of art in the Penn State School of Visual Arts, has been selected to provide two works for the 2018 Hennessy Art Fund Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) Collection.

“Refusal,” created in 2014, and “The Problem with Adjectives,” created in 2017, will be on display at the IMMA showcasing O’Leary’s unmistakable work created with repurposed wood knitted into frame-like structures that can stand by themselves.

The Hennessy Art Fund was established in 2016 — in a partnership with IMMA — to help fund the purchase of important works by artists based in Ireland and Irish artists living abroad.

O'Leary was born in County Wexford, Ireland, and grew up on her family’s farm, which she said is the genesis for much of the inspiration that informs her artistic practices.

“I revel in the history of painting, its rules, its beauty, its techniques, but fold them back into the agricultural language I grew up with,” O’Leary said. “I’m interested in the personal, my own story, and the history of storytelling.”

The 2018 award season has been prolific for O’Leary. The Hennessey announcement comes on the heels of being named as a winner of the 2018-19 Rome Prize in the visual arts category by the American Academy in Rome. The critical acclaim her work has received has been welcomed, but the connection to her home country is what she said makes the Hennessy honor so special.

“I once said to somebody that with my work, I’ve been constructing ships to get back,” O’Leary said. “So for me to be acknowledged at home and to be part of this collection is different. It seems permanent and it seems like a down payment for my return.”

The exhibit will be on display at the IMMA until Sept. 16. For more information on the IMMA and the Hennessy Art Fund, visit the museum’s website.

O’Leary received her bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she joined the faculty of the Penn State School of Visual Arts in 1991. During her career, she has been honored with the Pollock-Krasner Award in 1989 and 1996; the Joan Mitchell Award for painting and sculpture in 2000; and the John Simon Guggenheim, Culturel Irlandais, MacDowell, and Yaddo fellowships.

Last Updated May 15, 2018