McDermott & McGough

McDermott & McGough, “If You Had Been the Moon”, April 2009, 10:16, Directed by Peter Mc  Gough, Starring Michael  Kavalus, Bryan Deckhart, Claybourne Elder, Christopher Le Rude, Alex Michael Stoll, and Andrew Lord

The art collective McDermott & McGough consists of the contemporary artists David McDermott and Peter McGough who are known for their work in sculpture, painting, film and photography. Their work examines such issues as religion, popular culture and art, medicine, advertising, fashion, and sexual behavior. McDermott and McGough are best known for their gay-themed paintings and the use of historical processing techniques in their photographic work, which includes film development with palladium, gum bichromate, salt, platinum, and carbon black.

Born in Hollywood, California in 1952, David McDermott studied at Syracuse University in New York from 1970 to 1974. He moved to New York City where he became famous in the downtown area for his odd manners and outdated formalwear, such as detachable collars, cummerbunds, and top hats. Born in Syracuse in 1958, Peter McGough studied at Syracuse University in 1976. He relocated to New York City where he briefly studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After dropping out from the Institute, McGough was employed to sell tickets at Danceteria, a famous, albeit illegal, nightclub with several locations in the city.

Peter McGough met David McDermott in a Manhattan theater at the end of the 1970s. As David kept Peter company during the early club hours before sunrise, a strong relationship developed between them  that also included an artistic alliance which would last forty years. In the 1980s, the gay couple became known in New York’s East Village art scene for their immersion in the Victorian era. McDermott and McGough questioned the ideas of nostalgia; they pursued an art form and lifestyle narrative of reorienting the past for the future. Dressed and living as early 1900s dandies with an air of erudition and impertinence, their lives and art became an exploration of time and history, as well as, a challenge to the boundaries of art history and cultural identity.

McDermott and McGough’s collaborative output was expressed through a proliferation of drawings, paintings, film and photographs, and architectural interiors. Their photographs and films, which appropriated images and objects from the late 19th century to the style of the 1930s, explored contemporary cultural issues but produced them through vintage materials and techniques. McDermott and McGough’s obsession with the past is reflected in the styles and subjects they resurrect; many of their works are titled with fictional dates that reference the latter years of the 1800s. 

The later work of McDermott and McGough was inspired by advertising motifs, Hollywood cinema, and the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. They reinvented major works of twentieth-century photography, Pop Art icon images, and produced photo-realistic paintings of vintage film stars. During the 1980s when their work was selling well, McDermott and McGough were a major part of the downtown New York scene, where the attended clubs and mingled with Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. They bought three properties including a 1860s French Second Empire style bank, owned horses and vintage automobiles, hosted lavish baroque parties, and bestowed expensive gifts to friends.

 In 1992, the art market began to feel the effects of the stock market crash of October 1987. Out of all the paintings McDermott and McGough had on  exhibit at the Armory Show, only one small painting sold. Their debts, which included framing costs for their exhibitions, came due; many of these debts were paid through the transfer of their existing artwork to galleries and other debtors, among whom was the Internal Revenue Service. Eventually everything the couple had was auctioned off except for a few pieces they managed to save and later shipped to the docks of Dublin, Ireland. David McDermott relocated to a small  rental house near Ballsbridge, Ireland, and in 1995 McGough reunited with him. 

McDermott and McGough started painting and soon were able to rent a small art studio in Temple Bar in downtown Dublin. Through Swiss art dealer and gallery owner Bruno Bischofberger, they received many silhouette commissions. With the assistance of the gallery’s director Andrea Caratsch, McDermott and McGough had an exhibition in 1998 entitled “The Lust That Comes from Nothing” at Paris’s Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.

McDermott and McGough’s previous exhibitions include the Whitney Biennial, New York, in 1987, 1991 and 1995, and a mid-career retrospective at the Provincial Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Oostende, Belgium. In 2017, their work was the subject of the exhibition “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going’ held at the Dallas Contemporary Museum in Texas. Other solo and group exhibitions include such institutions as the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, New York City’s Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, and the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany. 

McDermott and McGough’s work is represented in numerous collections including the International Center of Photography in New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; Tampa Museum of Art in Florida; Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center; and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among others.

Notes: In 2017, David McDermott and Peter McGough opened the Oscar Wilde Temple, a non-secular sacred space for LGBTQ people in a chapel at the Church of the Village located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It is both an art exhibition space and a place for marriages; donations go to homeless LBGTQ youth. A second location at the gallery Studio Voltaire in London was opened in October of 2018.

In 2019, Peter McGough published his memoir “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going There” through Penquin Random House. Set in New York’s Lower East Side, the memoir chronicles his life withDavid McDermott during the 1980s and mid-1990s.

Top Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Portrait of the Artists, 1928, 1990”, Palladium Print on Paper, 35 x 26.5 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Love is Gone- So What Can Matter? 1966, 2008”, Oil on Linen, 152.4 x 122.2 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Joel at Lower Baldonell House, Dublin, 1910, 2003”, Palladium Print on Paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Private Collection

Fourth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “The Annointed”, 1991, Photographers and Friends Against AIDS Exhibition, Palladium Print on Paper, 16.5 x 11.8 cm, Private Collection

Fifth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, Title Unknown (Reading Comics), Image from the “Detroit, 1958” Series,  2007, Carbro Print, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Portrait of the Artist (With Top Hats) 1865”, 1991, Palladium Print on Paper, Collection of the Artists

2 thoughts on “McDermott & McGough

  1. In 2019 McGough published a biography that details their rise and fall – and their fall was dramatic, as the IRS basically closed them down for neglecting to pay tax for …years. (At the time, they *owned* the iconic Williamsburg Savings Bank building as their studio – if they’d kept it, they’d be zillionaires.)

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