Dublin Contemporary is billed as Ireland’s International Art Exhibition, and rightly so. The works of over one hundred Irish and international artists are dispersed between some of the city’s most aesthetically pleasing venues, from Earlsfort Terrace to that artistic oasis in North Dublin, The Hugh Lane via The Royal Hibernian Academy, The National Gallery and The Douglas Hyde. The exhibition attempts to address the theme Terrible Beauty — Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance. The theme references Yeats’ poem ‘Easter 1916’, borrowing from his response to politics at the time to evidence art’s potential as a medium for social, economic and cultural commentary, and in doing so offers a glimmer of what’s to be expected. Curatorial Manager Aideen Darcy explains that the current financial climate has had a definite effect on the exhibition. “I think if it was on five years ago, the content could have been very different. It could have been a very glamorous affair […] everybody’s mindset was very different back then.”
The Earlsfort Terrace Complex (comprised of the National Concert Hall, the purpose built Annex and the Iveagh Gardens) is the heart of the exhibition, housing the works of the majority of artists showing. It’s a smörgåsbord of this artistic genre, consisting of works in wide variety of media (paint, sculpture, installation) addressing a multitude of topics; a ceramic giant squid and a giant ‘green’ coffin are but two of the wonders on show.
The Royal Hibernian Academy and Douglas Hyde galleries are going down a more traditional, though no less arresting, vein. It’s all about subject here. Lisa Yuzkavage’s visceral female nudes will unite both the high- and lowbrow, while Alice Neel’s eerie Family portraits will resonate with the staid middle ground. The National Gallery is also exhibiting some of Dublin Contemporary’s paintings, though the contexts and contents are somewhat different to that of those above; they have a swastika-wielding cartoon rat (Manuel Ocampo), and somebody has tagged the walls.
The Hugh Lane offers the closing words in this visual narrative; “PRIMAL FORMS OF STUFF” is tiled onto the gallery’s steps. This, along with similar pieces, constitutes Katie Holten’s On the Nature of Things. However, the photography and video installations of Willie Doherty are the most faithful to the exhibition’s theme. Landscapes of his native Derry, with evocative, though minimal, lettering, and looped videos of broken people and desolate places are subtle political screams.
Dublin Contemporary achieves what it sets out to do – it is art as social commentary, and it is this functionality that makes the collection worth celebrating. If you like art, you’ll love it. If you don’t like art, you might learn to appreciate it.
Dublin Contemporary runs until October 31st