Art for art’s sake in Ireland

Art for art’s sake in Ireland

TONY CLAYTON-LEA looks at the highlights of visual art exhibitions coming up in Ireland over the next few months

The Art of Sport, Butler Gallery, Kilkenny

Only a heathen would suggest there is no link between art and sport, but this superb exhibition further consolidates this line of thought by showcasing sport’s international lingua franca in terms of presence, beauty, and grace. “Work that provides a visual pathway into a world where survival and success depend on courage and heart… and where sacrifice and guts prevail,” is how the programme notes put it.

Curated by Anna O’Sullivan, artists featured include Dorothy Cross, Louis le Brocquy, Amelia Stein, and Fearghus Ó Conchúir.

Runs until October 8;

The Circus Encampment by Sarah Purser (picture dates from 1901, in public domain)

It Took a Century: Women Artists and the RHA, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

“Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness,” said the British art critic, Brian Sewell, in 2008. What a very silly man. A collaboration between the National Gallery and Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), this exhibition showcases women’s membership of the RHA from the election in 1923 of the first woman member, Sarah Purser, to the first woman President, Abigail O’Brien, in 2018. Artists featured include Purser, Margaret Clarke, Rachel Joynt, Alice Maher, Eileen McDonagh, and O’Brien. Result? Very first-rate and very pleasing aesthetics.

Runs until October 22;

Howardena Pindell, IMMA, Royal Kilmainham Hospital, Dublin

Philadelphia-born artist and activist Howardena Pindell, who rose to prominence from the late 1970s onwards, has been at the forefront of addressing the interconnecting issues of feminism, racism, slavery, violence, and exploitation. Subtitled ‘A Renewed Language’, IMMA’s exhibition is the largest presentation of Pindell’s work in Europe and brings together decades’ worth of paintings (including new works from 2022), as well as work on paper and video. Content warning: IMMA states that two video artworks in the exhibition contain graphic imagery.

Runs until October 30;

Shelter, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Curated by Anne Hodge, this exhibition showcases new work by five members of the Shell/Ter Artist Collective (which was co-developed during the pandemic to process life’s uncertainty). Photography, sculpture, painting, and expanded print are just some of the formats utilised by Diana Copperwhite, Allyson Keehan, Niamh McGuinne, Sharon Murphy, and Geraldine O’Neill. Included alongside the work of these artists are pieces from the National Gallery’s collection, and by artists whose work and art practice both match and resonate with the Shell/Ter Collective.

Runs until November 12;

Martina O’Brien: Midnight Zone, Highlanes Art Gallery, Drogheda, Co. Louth

Following an artist residency in 2019 aboard the Irish Marine Institute's Research vessel, the Celtic Explorer (which had sailed 300 kms off the west coast of Ireland to study the effects of climate change on deep-water coral), Kildare-based Martina O’Brien set about to work on Midnight Zone. Capturing her creative responses in various media, including video installations and immersive electro-acoustic sounds — which knits together the aural expressions of humpback whales and Seamus Heaney’s poem, The Given — O’Brien’s interests here concentrate on “ideas of remoteness, technologized vision, and unbreachable distance.”

Runs from October 14 until November 18;

Her Back to the World, The Model, Sligo

Varying themes and the concerns of Irish women artists over the past 100 years is the primary thrust of this exhibition, which takes its motivation from a quote by the American abstract painter Agnes Martin. Artists featured include Mainie Jellett, Mary Swanzy, Evie Hone, Norah McGuinness, Nano Reid, Alice Maher, Rita Duffy, and Dorothy Cross. Also on display are sculptural pieces by Fiona Mulholland, photography by Mary Kelly, and a mixed media installation, Breath by Maud Cotter.

Runs until December 22;

Bown + Bacon, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

Dorset-born photographer Jane Bown (1925-2014) was an acclaimed and intuitive portraitist that worked swiftly and with little fuss. Dublin-born Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the leading international artists of his generation. In 1980, Bown photographed Bacon at his London studio, using a mere three rolls of film. This exhibition features a selection of Bown’s images of Bacon (donated to the gallery by the Jane Bown Estate) along with carefully curated works from the gallery’s Francis Bacon Studio Archive.

Runs until January 7;

Film as Art, Ulster Museum, Belfast

Perhaps not even the most informed film buff would be familiar with the name of Belfast-born Brian Desmond Hurst (1895-1986), but he is rightly viewed as one of Northern Ireland’s best film directors. Hurst served as a private in World War One, seeing service in Gallipoli, the Balkans and the Middle East.

In an interview with Punch magazine in 1969 he said: "I would fight for England against anybody except Ireland.” Why for England? He was asked. “Because an Englishman is worth twenty foreigners.” Why not against Ireland? “Because an Irishman is worth fifty Englishmen.'"

After his military service, Hurst travelled to Canada, and from there to a life in cinema, with many films to his name including 1951’s Scrooge, and his final film, 1962’s The Playboy of the Western World. The enlightening exhibition features film footage, posters, and many other examples of personal memorabilia donated by the director’s Estate.

Runs until January 11;


Harry Clarke's Metzengerstein — an Illustration for Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (image in public domain)

Harry Clarke: Bad Romance, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

We like that the title of a Lady Gaga song has been utilised to present over 25 Harry Clarke works — watercolour studies, book illustrations in ink, early examples of stained glass— in what is indisputably a rare and enlightening display of the famed Irish artist’s innovative techniques. Clarke was Dublin-born, stained-glass artist and book illustrator  who is regarded as a leading figure in the Irish arts and crafts Movement.

Inflienc by both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. His stained glass was particularly informed by the French Symbolist movement.

The book illustrations — for Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination — and the watercolours, inspired by John Keats’ poem The Eve of St Agnes, are especially fascinating.

From December 2 until February 18;

AT THE MAC: Mary Delany's Rubus odoratus (picture in public domain)

I See His Blood Upon the Rose, Metropolitan Arts Centre (the MAC), Belfast

I See His Blood Upon the Rose traces the history of the flower in art, its evolution from botanical illustrations to the opulent still-life paintings of the 17th century, their adoption as symbols of political influence, revolution, and human control over nature.

The exhibition will draw connections and juxtapositions between artists and works spanning centuries. Artists include Mary Delany, the 18th century English painter (married to a Dublin man) who invented a form of paper-cutting or decoupage, which she called her "paper mosaiks" and created close to a thousand intricate illustrations of botanical specimens. These can be compared to the work if Dutch contemporary Rachel Ruysch, also exhibited at the MAC.

From December 8 until April 21, 2024;