INTO THE LIGHT: THE ARTS COUNCIL – 60 YEARS SUPPORTING THE ARTS
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork
(4 Dec 2012 – 23 Feb 2013).
Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane
(28 Nov 2012 – 24 Feb 2013) .
Limerick City Gallery
(30 Nov 2012 – 18 Jan 2013) .
The Model, Sligo
(7 Dec 2012 – 24 March 2013).
‘Into the Light: The Arts Council – 60 Years of Supporting the Arts’ marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Arts Council and comprises a series of four exhibitions at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Limerick City Gallery and The Model, Sligo, respectively. ‘Into the Light’ was developed by Lead Curator, Karen Downey and is accompanied by a publication, which features illustrations of works by over 100 artists and commissioned essays by Diarmaid Ferriter and Caoimhín MacGiolla Léith. Each of the four partner curators was invited to select works from the Arts Council collection to create a discrete exhibition that would reflect the interests and the ethos of each specific institution. Partner institutions were chosen, which themselves had a history of collecting and, in two cases, works from the institutions’ own collections are on view side by side with works from the Arts Council collection.
It is interesting that, although the four partner curators were free to select the works that they felt best reflected their own concerns, and a variety of curatorial approaches is certainly apparent, there are still some overarching themes that run through the four shows. For example, all four venues address the concept of the institutional frame, albeit from different perspectives.
‘Into the Light’ also commissioned four contemporary artists: Mark Clare (Crawford Art Gallery), Karl Burke (The Hugh Lane), Emmet Kierans (Limerick City Gallery) and Sean Lynch (The Model) to respond to the works selected at their particular venue and all four commissioned works are very different in form and approach. Nevertheless, of the four, three are quite focused on the concept of framing and the relationship between viewer and object and how that might be activated.
At Limerick City Gallery, director Helen Carey considered the selection from the point of view of a city gallery with the possibility for citizens to become involved and chose a long list of 120 works from which a panel selected 67. There were two public talks, with Oliver Dowling of The Arts Council and a second with John Logan (historian and author) and Paul Tarpey (lecturer at LSAD), who, together with Ann Horrigan (Askeaton Contemporary Arts) and Baz Burke (visual artist, dancer), made up the panel. This very democratic selection process was filmed and is being shown in the space, while Cliodhna Shaffrey’s essay on this selection is available in an accompanying booklet.
Carey framed the exhibition in relation to unlocking a connection Limerick had with psychedelic rock and beat vibe in the 1960s and 1970s. There was, at the time, a strong music scene to which a lot of artists had connections, so this space and time have particular local relevance. Commissioned artist Emmet Kieran’s work responded to this vibe and to the process, exploring the limits of what painting can be. The works selected are almost all from the 1960s and 1970s, although bookended by two landscapes, The Black Lake by Gerald Dillon (1940s) and Green Landscape by Basil Blackshaw (1980), and exemplify the period of transition taking place at the time. Many connections are made forwards and backwards in history, from the wonderful archival material on the first Rosc exhibition at the RDS in 1967, for which Patrick Scott did the graphics as well as designing the space (1), and of which Mr Gill, New York art critic, said at the time, “it is a marriage of room with paintings”, “a tour de force of architecture in terms of museum design” (2) to the rebellion against Academic Realism by students at NCAD in the late 60s, backed up by artist Alice Hanratty, whose work is also on show. This exhibition performs a role; it is celebratory, highlighting contexts and relationships between works and artists, covering abstraction, modernism, landscape and how they were treated. There is an energy around it, a real sense of knowledge and history being transferred, and this is evident in the large numbers of students and school tours visiting the space.
The exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery, where Dawn Williams was the partner curator, examines a very different period of Irish art history. The Crawford’s own collection was well represented by much of the Arts Council Collection up to the 1990s and Williams wished to complement that, resulting in a selection made entirely from works since 2000. Williams’ selection is comprised of works which she feels look backwards in order to go forwards in their work. Among these, Gerard Byrne’s 1984 and Beyond (2006) explores and exposes assumptions and predictions made at a discussion in 1963 about what the future post-1984 might hold. Eoghan McTigue’s Empty Sign TU (2002), a to-scale photograph of a now empty institutional notice board, questions accepted notions of display and context. Commissioned artist Mark Clare’s The Two Horns of Phaedrus (2012) is a kinetic work in two pieces, which becomes activated when a viewer comes close. This work raises questions about the resonance of art works, how certain pieces might work together in groups or in a collection, and explores the importance of context and framing, as well as the perspective of the viewer.
At the Model Niland in Sligo, curator Emer McGarry incorporates three collections, as some of the works shown, are on loan from the Graeve Collection to the Niland Collection. In this respect McGarry was able to pull at threads to see what connections exist between different works from the same time period, as well as between works spanning three generations and at least three different periods in Irish art: contemporary works, works displaying a modernist approach and works of early twentieth century painters, who were associated with the school of Academic Realism.
McGarry’s curatorial approach was to take Mark Garry’s Folds (2010) and Kathy Prendergast’s The End and the Beginning (1997) as a starting point, visually and thematically, from which to highlight trains of thought, threads which connect various approaches and concerns central to the artists whose works are on display here. The three main strands emphasised are: the use of craft, with its references to domesticity and by extension the work of Irish women artists over this period; the different approaches to landscape; and the inner world of reflection and emotions. The intergenerational nature of the selection allows themes to be drawn together in unique ways, mapping possible routes and progressions through recent Irish art history.
A number of artists represented in the Arts Council Collection also had pieces from the Niland Collection exhibited. These pieces, often from a different period of work, had the effect of joining the dots, of showing how a single artist could embrace various or similar themes with different approaches, tying in and crossing over with other works by other artists hanging in the same space. This resulted in a very satisfying overview of Irish art practice, with many doors through which to approach the work on show.
A reading room featured four films, supported by the Arts Council and RTE, which respond to the collection, including a film on reactions within The Model to Alice Maher’s Nettle Coat, and a film on the making and hanging of Karl Burke’s Arrangements at The Hugh Lane Gallery.
Sean Lynch was the commissioned artist at The Model and his work A Church without a Steeple (2012) – a series of slides with voiceover – explores the responses of the Irish public to modernism in Ireland, examining how the changing views of the artwork itself vary depending on the position of the viewer in relation to the piece, whether that be physical, social or economic: a mutual reflection or lack thereof between viewer and work. One anecdote recounted in this work is that of a form, floating down the street looking for the exhibition, looking to “enter the frame”. This piece also ties in very well with the curatorial approach of Michael Dempsey at Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane and Karl Burke’s framing devices.
The curatorial approach of partner curator at The Hugh Lane, Michael Dempsey, was to think of the exhibition as one installation. He saw this as a rare opportunity to put two collections together and, as the Arts Council Collection contained a lot of abstract work, began to think about themes in 1970s post minimalism and wall and floor relationships. Dempsey’s interest in the creative process of exhibition-making is apparent throughout. Using the institutional frame, literally, as a backdrop, he draws attention to the content of the frame, the architecture of the institution through the painting of walls, moving them optically around corners and creating vanishing points on walls behind the works. This strategy has multiple effects. First it creates rather than informs, making this a very experiential exhibition. It has the effect of debunking rigid, chronological categories, raising questions for the viewer about the nature of abstraction and art history. It also creates echoes with many of the works, making them seem almost hyper-real and heightening the viewer’s awareness of the flat wall.
This sensation is emphasised still further by the work of commissioned artist Karl Burke, whose Arrangements (2012), sculptural framing devices which intervene dramatically into the space, subvert and frame the works. These steel and wooden frames create spaces between viewer and frame, beyond the frame, between frame and work(s), and force the viewer to experience the space differently, to look at the work differently, singly and in groups. These very successful pieces might draw the viewer in, and out the other side and heighten the sense of self and of position in space. Dempsey’s research included Richard Wollheim and this exhibition certainly has that kind of intimate intensity (3).
Dempsey sees the collection as a resource, which could be engaged with on many different levels and emphasises the importance of “making it current. This collection still has relevance to artists and audiences today.” These four exhibitions, in four very different ways, have achieved that.
Notes 1. Dorothy Walker, Modern Art in Ireland, The Lilliput Press, 1967, 114 2. Rosc ’67, RTE Archives, film shown at Into The Light at Limerick City Gallery, November 2012 – January 2013 3. Richard Wollheim, Art and its Objects: An Introduction to Aesthetics, Harper and Row, New York, 1968