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Feast your eyes on the modern masters

What is IMMA?

IMMA -- not to be confused with the opening word of Kanye West's VMA rant against Taylor Swift -- is The Irish Museum of Modern Art. A cornerstone of Irish contemporary art, it has been based at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham since 1991. In May of this year, the gallery opened a new, temporary off-site location at Earlsfort Terrace, due to major refurbishment at the main building in Kilmainham.

Where is it?

There are not many things to thank Charlie Haughey for, but the existence of IMMA is one of them. Just over 20 years ago, CJ greenlit the idea of a national institution for modern and contemporary art. The Kilmainham building was originally a hospital in the 17th century and later a home for retired soldiers.

The site at Earlsfort Terrace was the original home of UCD, before the move to Belfield in the 1960s. Some of the exhibition space is comprised of lecture halls and tutorial rooms, which adds to the experience of the work housed there.

Why go?

In terms of seeing the best of international work, big-name contemporary artists and modern masters, IMMA can't be beaten. The Kilmainham building is stunning in and of itself -- the works hanging on the walls are a bonus. The sunken gardens are landscaped and are perfect for a winter stroll or a summer picnic.

Is it easy to get to?

Yes -- it's only a 10-minute drive from town and the Royal Hospital site has a large (free) carpark. It's also close to several buses and the LUAS. Earlsfort Terrace is right in the centre of town, and there's plenty of disc parking nearby.

What's on?

At the moment? A brilliant, dazzling, dark retrospective by Irish artist Alice Maher. Entitled Becoming, Maher's work consists of everything from video installations to tiny houses made of rose thorns. What looks like a giant ball of yarn, is made from brambles and in one darkened room, a fridge -- turned inside out -- is shaped like a bed. There's also a video piece, containing a necklace made of animal tongues.

Maher's work seems to draw on nature and fairytales, as much as sensuality and it's a feast for the eyes. It runs until early February, so there's still plenty of time to catch it.

Anything else we should see?

Sidney Nolan might not be a very familiar name, but he was one of Australia's most famous painters. A new exhibition centres on a series of work he painted in the 1940s of legendary Irish-Australian Ned Kelly. Kelly was a folk hero to some, a dodgy criminal to others, so Nolan's representation of him will be worth a look. It opened last week at the Kilmainham site and runs until January 27.

Is there food on site?

The Kilmainham gallery has a cafe, Itsa@IMMA, which serves great bagels (The Holy Cow or The Gourmet Veggie are recommended). There are salads, soups and hot mains on offer, and for afterwards, try a homemade muffin, cookie or brownie.

They also have a tailored kids' menu (including the brilliantly named 'Snakes and Ladders' bagel with bacon and sausage) and for any waist-watchers, there are also healthy options available. There is no cafe at Earlsfort Terrace, but Morton's deli around the corner does tasty, affordable sandwiches.

What about kids?

If the rate my own children go through markers is anything to go by, kids love drawing and are fascinated by shapes and colours. Indoctrinate your own little Picassos by giving them a tour, or better yet, sign up for IMMA's Family Programme, Explorer.

It takes place at IMMA @ NCH at Earlsfort Terrace, every Sunday from 2-4pm. It's free, but get there early as it fills up. There are also semi-regular Teen Create (12-15 years) and Studio 8 Programmes (15-18 years) for teenagers. For information, email: edcommbooking@imma.ie or tel: 01 612 9900.

What's the main reason to go?

The great art, the stunning buildings on both sites, the gardens at Kilmainham. If you're meeting a friend, it beats jostling for elbow room in a crowded cafe. And the cakes aren't bad either!