There appears to be a dichotomy in the Dublin art scene. Mark Garry’s Another place at Kerlin, and Gallery 126’s Video killed the radio star, shown alongside Nevan Lahart’s A lively start to a dead end at the RHA all serve to demonstrate this divide. It opens one’s eyes to the current gallery-artist predicament. The gallery in straitened times wants to show the piece that they know is a winner – in Garry’s case this is his string piece, recently and similarly shown at the Hugh Lane Gallery. Whether this situation is initiated by the gallery or the artist is hard to tell; either way, it does nothing for either party. By backing artists into this corner, it leaves them exposed. Many artists and young curators are now moving away from the visual arts for more freedom; in a telling move, Garry has recently channelled his creativity into the musical collaboration Sending letters to the sea, which is receiving great reviews.
By contrast, the RHA have thrown caution to the wind. Gallery 126’s Video killed the radio star examined the idea of false nostalgia and parody. A Warholesque treatment was applied to a Glenn Beck America. I enjoyed the show; some imagery appeared a bit too close to obvious, with evocations of torture and projections of the White House, but for the most part it was inventive and exciting. Wonderful, no safety-net here, no agonised trajectory. Then I moved into Gallery I and suddenly what I had been looking at appeared very safe indeed. What can only be described as a riotous art-orgy made up Nevan Lahart’s A lively start to a dead end. What a splendid juxtaposition of situation and artwork. The raucousness seen in the gallery permeated everything, including the RHA ladies, normally donors or Ballsbridge locals. Arriving at 7.30pm I met one of these dames on the way out; looking at me regretfully and smelling like a wine cartel she announced “you’ve missed it all!” What she meant was that the booze had expired and a quick look into the toilets revealed that many the lady had followed suit; the bathroom reeked of sick.
My favourite piece was the giant cheesy-puff man giving the thumbs-up. One quick aside – the new ‘point’ is to use one’s thumb; apparently this started with Bill Clinton…who knew? Topical and unfathomable, what more can one ask? I imagined this piece in my home, placed there for no other reason but to justify my parent’s unswerving misunderstanding of contemporary art. I can just hear myself: “it’s a Nevan Lahart, mother, this piece was recently shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy, it cost a fortune; it may look like a giant cheesy-puff man but its so much more than that; it’s a statement on pop-culture!”
I have recently been concerned that the Irish art industry might be scared into showing the sellable and sedate in an effort to ride out the recession, and for the most part this unfortunately has been the case. On the other hand, museums play to a different tune and funding already agreed allows them much freedom. If the RHA is anything to go by, their adventurous programme has paid dividends. I returned two days later and there was still a good crowd. The squishy hearse, the freakishly accurate depiction of Joseph Beuys, the moss paper-mache globe, the artist’s shed with the garotted dolly; I’d love to have been at the donor committee meeting to hear them reason through it all.