Niamh Barry Designs Stunningly Abstract Lighting
How Niamh Barry’s illuminated bronze sculptures catapulted her onto the international design stage
Niamh Barry doesn’t think of herself as an overnight sensation. The Dublin-born and -based creator of striking modern art objects that incorporate led lights into hand-welded bronze pieces described her career as a life journey. But her presence on the international scene changed dramatically in 2011, after she sent her portfolio to Todd Merrill, the Manhattan dealer in mid- to late-20th-century design. Merrill had recently opened Studio Contemporary, a new division of his company, to represent emerging and established artists. She decided to contact him. “I loved it all so much I did something that I’ve never done before. I signed her up without seeing the pieces in person,” said Merrill, who presented Barry’s work at Art Basel—in Basel, Switzerland—that year, to great acclaim. “LED lighting had just appeared on the scene and was quite ugly,” he explained. “But she made it gorgeous.”
The reaction “was overwhelming,” Merrill recalled. From that first show, her work, which had previously been sold only in the United Kingdom, went global. Barry’s client list now includes top interior designers such as Peter Marino, Nate Berkus, and Miles Redd. “Her drive and ambition grow bigger and bigger,” added Merrill. “She’s become a world-class artist in less than four years.”
Barry had to put in years of work before she became an instant success. She knew that she wanted to be involved in the world of design from her early teenage years. After graduating from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland, in 1991, she opened her own studio, and found lots of work creating pieces for commercial installations for hotels and restaurants. But she became unhappy, wanting instead to create her own art.
Barry explained that her art is intuitive, inspired by cloud formations, bare branches, and even the low winter sun. She added lighting to her bronze sculptures because, “light brings a piece to life,” she said. “I’ve always been a person in love with fire. Light is the same way. It draws people.” It certainly has done so for her—and has thrust her into the limelight.