The Art Jog 

Cork May 2010

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
Plan B

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.