Bank Holiday


Left: Curator Caroline Hancock and artist Amina Menia. Right: RHA director Patrick T. Murphy and Edel Beresford.

I’M TOLD THAT JANUARY 11 is when you can stop saying Happy New Year. It was only the 10th, but already 2013 was feeling a little dusty as we thronged into the Royal Hibernian Academy for the first big art bash of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We’d gotten used to being slightly mortified in European company, vaguely embarrassed about our bank bailout, while we hugged to ourselves the notion that at least we’re better than Greece. But this year we’re feeling good about the European Union, in part because of an extra chunk of funding for cultural projects, in celebration of the fact, that, until June, we’re the ones in charge in Brussels (nominally, at least).

At the RHA, six different exhibitions were opening, and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) Eamon Gilmore shared the revelation that “art appreciation is a personal experience for all of us.” Other pearls included the insights that the European Union is “not just a currency or a budget,” that “our culture is at the core of who we are,” and that “our artists and performers exemplify the energy of modern Ireland.” Suitably energized, we clapped, grabbed some more wine, and left the minister speaking with Vivienne Roche (whose Spirit and Light installation is in the RHA atrium) to take in the shows.

In Justin Larkin’s “Untitled,” bright, cartoon-style paintings are juxtaposed with intriguing objects on plinths, including an apple that appears as if straight out of Snow White. Artist Alan Phelan thought it looks like “he’s been taking Larry Johnson ’toon pills, washed down with a shot of Paul McCarthy.” We both liked the way it brought some candy-colored, if macabre, brightness to a dampish Dublin night.

Left: Artist Anita Groener and Kunstmuseen Krefeld curator Martin Hentschel. (Photo: Gemma Tipton) Right: Tony Murray and artist Justin Larkin.

Where to be is always a tricky issue for artists at large openings. Do you hover by your work for the duration, or get out there and mingle? I met Algerian artist Amina Menia between a Richter and a Polke; she was clearly keen to get back to her own show, “Becoming Independent,” and filled me in on the complex colonial legacy of French occupation. I began to wonder if there’s any country entirely free of that kind of thing, if you go far enough back in time. We were joined by that exhibition’s curator, Caroline Hancock, in from Paris, whose tales of angling for visas for Menia and her fellow artist Zineb Sidera made us realize that, tiresome as some European Union Directives are, the ability to travel with relative ease between the member states is worth its weight in all the gold we collectively owe.

Perhaps it’s something about living on a small island, but Irish people do get around. Hancock, now based in Paris, is off to do a show in Dakar next month, while the Rubicon Gallery’s Josephine Kelliher is moving to Brussels for the duration of the Irish presidency, opening a branch of the gallery in Ixelles. “It’s never a bad thing to start something new while there’s a special focus on who you are and where you’re from,” she says. With a major show opening of Irish art, from Francis Bacon on, at the Bozar in February, she has a point.

Octogenarian artist Basil Blackshaw solved the problem of where to be by simply staying away from the opening of his retrospective altogether. Instead, curator Riann Coulter was there, politely disclaiming any acclaim for selecting the fifty-plus works, which include a healthy smattering of Blackshaw’s much-loved horse paintings. “Basil picked it,” she said. In fact, everyone was giving credit to everyone else. Martin Hentschel, from Germany’s Kunstmuseen Krefeld, who curated the Polke and Richter works-on-paper exhibition, said it was hard work, but, like a true leader, told me it was all about the team. He was returning to Germany in the morning to work on a pair of shows—Peter Angermann and Michael Craig-Martin. “Separately,” he said. “Not together. They’re like fire and water”—though he declined to say which was which.

Left: Rubicon Gallery director Josephine Kelliher and curator Riann Coulter. Right: Artists Jennifer O'Brien and Cora O'Brien.

That’s the European Union in action: selfless cooperation, and lots of flying about the place on planes (for the sake of art!). Everyone here seemed en route to somewhere else. Artist Liam O’Callaghan will be showing at Rubicon Brussels, while Anita Groener, standing by her stunning installation State, was planning her forthcoming spring show at Galerie Witteveen Amsterdam. Mary Cremin was talking Venice already, as she’s working with Commissioner Anna O’Sullivan on bringing Richard Mosse to the Irish pavilion. “I’m very excited,” she said. “I’d be even more excited if it was me,” added O’Callaghan with a wry smile.

Suddenly it was time to go. RHA director Patrick T. Murphy announced the traditional move to Doheny & Nesbitt, the pub once famed for its gatherings of economists and politicians. Dubbed the Doheny & Nesbitt School of Economics, the group was blamed in a recent New York Times article as the source of all our financial woes. Now Doheny’s is also infamous as the spot for RHA afterparties. As we left the gallery and looked back through the pink masking Groener has added to the windows as part of her installation, I was feeling all loved up on art. But I also wondered: In which direction will those rose-tinted spectacles be working in Ireland in 2013—looking out, or looking in…?

Gemma Tipton

Left: Federico Riezzo and restaurateur Conor Bereen of Coppinger Row. Right: Sarah O'Connell.