PRINT May 1993


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 a renegotiation of identity that is generating rich ideas for other world regions on the same path. With the help of contributing editor Declan McGonagle, director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Artforum here publishes a group of essays exploring aspects of these issues, and discussing a number of artists involved in them.

In their sensibility and practice, both the writers of the essays and the artists they address were formed in these years since the Gibbons, a lecturer in media studies at Dublin City University, has investigated the representation of Ireland, to itself and to others, in various publications covering art, literature, and film. Joan Fowler, who teaches in the History of Art Department at Dublin’s National College of Art, moved from the North to the South of Ireland in the 1970s, and has studied in England and the U.S.; she has, then, a usefully bifocal vision of this territory, and of its relation to an international discourse. John Hutchinson, both as an art historian and critic and currently as the director of the Douglas Hyde Gallery, in Dublin’s Trinity College, has also contributed to this discourse. The California art critic Jeff Kelley views Irish art with the Irish-American’s valuable combination of emotional involvement and geographic and historical distance. And finally the artist Nigel Rolfe, who contributes a visual project, moved to Ireland from England in the mid ’70s; his practice entails a deep sense of place, which, however, is located in the widest possible flow of ideas and meaning.