Part 1: Cork Vision Centre
Cela Neamtu: Letting in the Light
This exhibition of large-scale, wall-hung tapestries by Romanian Cela Neamtu was part of an official celebration of Irish‐Romanian relations, which had been marked earlier in the day by a very enjoyable concert of Romanian and Irish classical music at the CIT School of Music, in which that institution’s debt to a group of much‐loved Romanian teachers was in evidence. The designs were based on church window shapes, and the artist referred to her work’s drawing on the spiritual and cultural reserves of traditional Romanian life.
Not Art (bad cop): the art-craft distinction was useful here as, artistically, the introduction of Eastern Christian motifs seemed tokenistic and the use of colour (dominated by biscuits and beiges) bland. Taken as craft, the weaving skill and tonal control could be appreciated (especially from a distance), though the inclusion of rough, unfinished areas seemed a little seventies-eightiesish.
Art (good cop): A lot of bad things could be said about this exhibition. Why, for instance, is there still a 3‐D map of the city lying bloated and deformed in the middle of the so-called exhibition space? But that’s for another day. Once you get over the fact that you are basically looking at woven carpets of stained glass windows (ahem) without the stained glass, it is possible to enjoy these craftworks, even if one’s tongue remains firmly stuck in one’s cheek. The divine light that surrounds the woven fenestrations is uniquely creepy and manages to create a theophanic experience without the need for any religious content. Maybe the artist herself felt the need to break us away from the tapestries’ supernatural associations by deliberately exposing the human techniques applied in their construction in a least one of the works. The experience was odd but strangely entrancing.
Part 2: Crawford Municipal Gallery
Drawing to Form
The ground floor galleries presented work from the Weltkunst Collection of British art from the late eighties and early nineties, which is currently on long-term loan to IMMA. The show comprised drawings and sculptures by artists known chiefly for their sculptural work: Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Anthony Gormley, Shirazeh Houshiary, etc. The larger collection was originally put together by the art-dealer Adrian Ward-Jackson, a friend of Princess Diana’s, who died of Aids at the age of 41.
Not Art (good cop): ‘Weltkunst’…This foundation, for whom the internet offers a PO box in Zurich and little else by way of information, has something of the mysterious post‐war internationalist aura of a fictional organisation in a James Bond plot. What I found interesting about the exhibition, which was otherwise quite patchy, with a number of fairly slight pieces making claim to attention purely by virtue of the famous names attached, was this idea of ‘weltkunst’: world-art. Brought together in this way, this generation of British artists seemed to take on a role left vacant by Henry Moore, producing a sculptural vocabulary amenable to global architectural or infrastructural settings. The tendency to massiveness and abstraction, the pursuit of ‘fundamental forms’ – prehistoric or ethnic building and craft meeting organic and subatomic shapes in the case of Kapoor and Houshiary, approximative casts of the human body or suburban house, in the case of the more insular Gormley and Whiteread – and the use of industrial materials, suggest an idiom translatable into nationally varied built environments, colder than the organicism of Moore or Hepworth, but stopping short of the rationalism of the old Internationalist Style, a kind of technologically empowered compromise.
Art (art cop): This exhibition reveals the many inherent difficulties of curating with a private collection. Collections are mostly compiled by individuals with specific (irregular at best) artistic tastes, large wallets and some undying wish to be memorialised. Bought and donated for vanity reasons to Art Institutions they often turn out to be more albatross than peacock. Albatrosses they have to store, maintain, exhibit and then tour, which doubles up as a way of valorising or giving provenence to a collector’s prophetic vision. For the most part, this is not the case with this exhibition. But I do have to ponder the merits of counterposing Rachel Whiteread’s incidental or preparatory drawings with Anthony Gormley’s blood and semen drawing. The now ubiquitous Gormley has to be rolled out at every mention of ‘British’ and/or ‘sculpture’ along with his cohort Anish Kapoor. Neither of whom added anything of substance to this exhibition, apart from their populist reputation, and the works on show led to no new access points to their practice. But it would be wrong of me not to mention the positives: how the exhibition provides a strange cultural snapshot of British sculpture of the late 80s; and how the dark terre verte green walls, reminiscent of those in the In-Finitum exhibition in Venice last year, greatly added to the experience of Shirazeh Houshiary’s large drawings, which crept to the edge of perceptual vision (a highlight for me).
Part 3: Triskel Arts Centre
The Triskel was enjoying its temporary location in the old ESB substation on Caroline Street. Its ground‐floor gallery opening onto a shopping thoroughfare, the driving post-punk (New Orderish?) sounds of Dublin band Cap Pas Cap flooded the street, washing around the passing public and drawing in the curious. Unfortunately, the size of the crowd inside meant that Cork art-group Not Abel’s exhibition Bored of the Event couldn’t be viewed, but the upstairs gallery (a bright, atmospheric space, full of possibility) was hosting another, albeit less countercultural show. Plan B was based on a limited edition volume, from the Enitharmon Press, of poems by Pullitzer prize-winner Paul Muldoon and photographs by Norman McBeath.
Not Art (bad cop): A press release has claimed that this collaboration can be thought of in terms of a ‘distinctly new genre – ‘photoetry’ – the description and coinage coming from Muldoon himself. It can’t, which is precisely the problem with the exhibition. Taken individually this was strong work: Muldoon’s characteristically inventive, controlled play with the happenstantial (though in a darker mode than usual, to the point of callousness, even, in the case of ‘The Sod Field’) and McBeath’s unexpected raids on the old resource of mouldering Ireland. But what on earth were the two doing together? It is a weakness with almost all such collaborations that either the image illustrates the words, or the words provide a harmonious parallel (‘response’) to the images (there is one case of this in Plan B, a poem responding to one of the included photographs), but it never gets beyond this polite waving across a distance. Sometimes, one suspects, it’s simply a matter of writer and artist liking each other personally, or even liking each other’s work, but never to the point of understanding it as occupying the same space. The individuals might speak to each other, but the work doesn’t, which is a bizarre affair considering the exploration of the interchange between word and image since, at least, the advent of advertising, Cubism, cinema, concrete poetry.
Art (hard cop): Like in some Large Hadron Collider Paul Muldoon’s written words were hurled around the ESB substation to either fuse seamlessly in some new art matter or disintegrate completely in the ecstasy of a beautiful new Big Bang on contact with the Norman McBeath photography. Instead of discovering the wonders of the art universe we arrived at ‘photoetry’? Both photographer and poet seemed highly capable, which makes the randomness of this ‘collaboration’ all the more unfortunate. (And I use ‘collaboration’ here to mean, well, actually nothing really). The highlight was the distraction of Cap Pas Cap’s rhythmic tunes wedging themselves through the floorboards of the exhibition. So much of a distraction that I decided to move to the darkness downstairs and make my ears bleed.
Part 4: The Lavit Gallery
Fr. Matthew Street’s Lavit Gallery has been ploughing a lone furrow since the disappearance of the Vanguard and Fenton Galleries (are there still exhibitions in Gallery 44?).
Not art (neutral cop): Monochrome was a little like the day’s weather and our experience of visiting five city-centre galleries: anything but homogenous. All the work was ‘professional’ – it had the sheen of high production values. But there was a wide range of quality: from the genuinely interesting architecture‐like abstract drawings of Wesley Triggs, to impressive but unoriginal affairs, to renditions of popular motifs that, were it not for the standard of execution, would not look out of place on a park railing.
Art (cop‐on!): The odd nature of our task was felt once again in the anachronistic world of the Lavit Gallery. As witnessed by the list of former graduate award winners on the wall above its stairs, the Lavit has been a significant catalyzing agent in Cork’s artistic past. These days it’s neither a private gallery proper nor a craft shop for passing tourists, and has lost the central position it once had. And ‘Monochrome’ is a reflection of this malaise. In a time when possibilities for exhibiting in Cork are limited, and with private galleries abandoning the centre of the city, this is surely a moment of opportunity for the Lavit, its chance to return to a position of leadership. That said, there is no doubting the merits of the black & white etchings by John Graham and the sensitive draughtsmanship of the experienced Megan Eustace. Both could easily slot into more prestigious surroundings. But in the end it was Wesley Triggs’ conté on paper drawings that managed to stay with me past the top of the stairs. Simple, graphic motion studies. Line-making that teases between presence and absence, positive and negative spaces, what it is and what we perceive it to be. It conjured scenes in my mind’s eye of 9/11: the concrete of the World Trade Centre’s façade shattered and jagged above the rubble, the surrounding chaos, and the fog, ethereal … yet just marks on a page.
Part 5: The Space Gallery
Perched high above the solicitors’ offices and banks of the South Mall, The Space Gallery is run by Cork Contemporary Projects, a group of recent graduates responding to the dearth of infrastructural support for non-commercial art with a DIY, collaborative provision of the public conditions for their practice. The results, if for economic reasons on a modest scale, have been anything but amateurish, though the difficulty of maintaining such a position is attested by the recent, unfortunate demise of Joe Nix’s The Couch. Along with the Basement Project Space and The Black Mariah (currently being hosted by the Triskel in the ESB substation on Caroline Street), The Space cultivates the otherwise barren ground on which ‘emerging artists’ in the city must subsist.
Not art (good cop): Cruciverbal, curated by Fiona Kelly, though not an artists’ show, was not quite a curator’s either. Based on the crypticism of crossword puzzles, the exhibition was the result of 26 artists being commissioned to produce a visual response to a verbal clue. The generative crossword itself appeared in the centre of the room, and crossword motifs could be found on the walls among the more or less uniformly‐sized work: the presentation was immaculate. The exhibition’s format was engaging, though it was clear that the various artists’ strongest work was not on show. Neither was there any particular sense of curatorial thinking about new Irish art, though the cut-and-paste, almost Pop aesthetic of the pieces suggested that the vast resources of online imagery were exercising their influence. These were informal responses to an informal commission, which came together in a quirky and amusing show.
Art (good cop): The ever-industrious Space and Cork Contemporary Projects were launching yet another exhibition and we managed to inveigle our way into the gallery in advance of the opening. Cruciverbal was the result of a brave, if cryptic, curatorial strategy by Fiona Kelly. I enjoyed its playful nature and the struggle to solve the riddles (made doubly hard for us as the titles / clues and name-plates were yet to be affixed). But the limitations of curatorial strategies like this were evident. Not every artist is so flexible that he or she can apply their practice to any amount of restrictions. So some worked well as artworks while other were just visual puns. All the same, like my visits to the Simplex or Crosaire, I may not have left with a sense of completion, but I’d certainly gained something by the attempt – if only a quizzical smile.
Art (Irish cop): Even though we didn’t quite make it in person (it was too far off our pre‐planned route) we did come across a new public art-work in Fitzgerald’s Park, through a newspaper cutting read during our sweaty lunch-break. But I feel it must get a mention, for the ambition of the project if not for patriotic reasons. On May 12th sculptor Jane Heffernan unveiled a finely crafted bronze bust of Brigadier General Daniel Florence O’Leary in the presence of the Venezuelan ambassador to Ireland. O’Leary was one of Cork’s most famous military leaders. After his father’s business went bankrupt he left for England to join the British Legion. From here, in 1819, he later, like many Irishmen at the time, travelled to Venezuela to join the ranks of Simon Bolivar’s liberating army. A bright scholar with a penchant for adventure he soon climbed up the ranks, becoming a close friend of Bolivar and later reaching the position of brigadier general. This sense of overcoming the odds may have rubbed off on Heffernan, as there are virtually no images of the great man: she had to work predominantly from a reproduction of a naïf 19th century painting.