IT IS AN IRONY of academia that the canon-keepers of English literature have had to let in so many writers who may actually have called themselves Irish. Indeed, few students of poetry, drama, the novel, and the polemical essay escape university both with a degree and without some knowledge of Ireland’s long literary tradition. Yet ask their friends in the visual-arts classes across the hall to name an Irish artist from before the 1970s or so. On this test, most—at any rate outside Ireland—wouldn’t graduate.

The reasons for Irish art’s relative historical obscurity are the subject of some speculation in Ireland. But the terms of the question are changing, for many Irish people agree that since the mid ’70s—since, say, the emergence of the Dublin-based artist James Coleman—a crucial new place for visual culture has been opening there. In the same period, postcolonial Ireland has engaged in

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