Saturday, March 31, 2007

Robert Hass and Derek Mahon at the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire

Poetry readings eh, I'm ambivalent about them. Somehow the tics and tremors of the poets can interfere with the pellucid words. However, it does serve as an opportunity to accord the bard some respect by turning up when they perform. And I have great admiration for poetry when it's not a lisping sonneteer at the helm. We have constantly to be on our guard against preciousness. Give me the hard taskmasters like Larkin, Berryman, and Yeats.

Tonight in Dun Laoghaire was mighty fine. Peter Fallon, who should be given the Nobel Prize for his services to poetry, introduced both Derek Mahon and Robert Hass, an American poet new to me - but well known to poetry lovers generally as he was American poet lauerate from 1995 to 1997 (I didn't even know they had such a thing).

Mahon was polished and even suave. He deflected Fallon's fulsome introduction by rejoining that "Peter always exaggerates, but in a nice way". He's thinner than he used to be and there is a whiff of privilege, preferrment and tenure about him - a practised international performer. The poetry though is elegant and intelligent.

Hass puts on an extraordinary performance, at least from my position overlooking the lectern: he shakily arranges his papers, picks up a water bottle, puts it down without drinking, takes off his watch and places it on an ajoining table, picks up the water bottle again, puts it down again without drinking from it, picks up the watch and places it on the lectern where it slides to the raised edge, shuffles the papers some more and off he goes. Between poems he repeats this perfomance and is so shaky throughout that it's amazing he can separate the sheets. But his poetry is passionate and more immediate than Mahon's - there's a particularly moving one abut his mother's alcoholism and his father's insensitivity in dealing with it; also a touching one about Nietzsche's last days in Turin. Some memorable lines: "a word is elegy to what it signifies".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dorothy Cross at the Kerlin Gallery

A ruined old currach suspended from the ceiling, and a pristine (albeit dead) gannet hanging underneath; metal footballs with hands reaching out from them; a couple of well made metal skulls and a whole lot of mediocre photographs of primitive islanders in boats - now go figure all that out. Oh and most of the photographs and the trite video have been taken on West Ireland in the South Sea Islands - very droll that. I reckon I have as much imagination as the next man and can see significance in a grain of sand but all this leaves me cold - much ado about nothing.

I quite like the idea of Dorothy Cross however and the way she adds to the gaiety of nations. Her flourescent light ship in Sandycove was a big hit with my kids and her innovations with cows' udders gave me the odd chuckle. Her video art always seemed pointless to me though. Her forte is the theatrical and the visual jolt that you get from direct encounters with her work. I remember the Waterford glass phallus (lovingly created) and the image of herself nude on the cross - Cross crucified geddit. Tee hee.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Paul McKinley at the RHA

Huge crowd at the RHA for the Nissan Art Project featuring Paul McKinley (with some Mark Clare video as a side show) - mainly student liggers mind you hammering the free wine supplied by Nissan.

I'd never seen PM's work before and was somewhat surprised to find meticulously painted figurative work - using a pointilist style reminiscent of Seurat but with the dots raised off the canvas. The works (mainly landscapes) had an artificiality that reminded me of Stephen McKenna. They were very attractive, if conventional pieces, and eminently collectible I'd say.

In sharp contrast to this we were also offered the video art of Mark Clare - jumping around in a small squalid room or pinching his arm and describing himself as "the perfect human being". We can only hope, I suppose, that he is being deeply ironic. But I'm biased here - video art (?) leaves me cold.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Six Nations Rugby Week 5: From Woe to Weal and after out of Joy

Chaucer was a great man for the Wheel of Fortune - in his works, such as Troilus and Criseyde, the wheel turned slowly albeit inexorably. For the Irish Rugby team, and its tormented supporters, it spun around with cruel alacrity. But great drama nonetheless.

Cecily Brennan at the Taylor Gallery

Cecily Brennan is an unlikely artist for the Taylor Gallery - judging by her recent work anyway. I remember commenting about this to Pat Taylor during her last show which featured scarred wrists and ecszema. His response was that when they took her on first she painted flowers. The inference being that they were taking the commercial hit based on the historical good times. Or maybe it's just the Taylors demonstrating that they care for art beyond the best sellers like Le Brocquy, Crozier etc.

The current show is just as uncommercial - and even at the very modest prices (less that €2K) only a couple had sold on the opening night. I like the work a lot - it's mainly very minimalist water-colour nudes, jagged and expressive, occasionally suggestive of Schiele. In the midst of these spare pieces are a couple of cryptic videos. One features a girl in a crisp white blouse getting knocked over and covered by great dark waves of black paint - good fun for the kids. The other shows an almost disembodied arm making patterns on a wall - occasionally, fleetingly, a nipple is seen.

Mick O'Dea at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery

The KK Gallery is in an unlikely location, down a dodgy sidestreet behind the Morrison Hotel. It's very small and thus difficult to view the paintings if there's any kind of crowd there. And there's a very good crowd for Mick's show - and a very different crowd to the normal commercial galleries. It's very grungy and right on, and bereft of buyers I suspect. The first two faces I see are Roddy Doyle and Robert Ballagh, and there's John Kelly nearby. The rest of the crowd look like artists or NCAD lecturers and students.

The work is well wrought figurative painting, which I don't find very exciting. There's a number of depictions of small tables draped with white cloths - accurately executed but so what. There's a bizzare study of a tall bearded man wearing a blue skirt and naked from the waist up. He does floor boards well - there's plenty of them on view. There is little evidence of his recent stint in Paris - although maybe he met the guy in the blue skirt there - he wouldn't be out of place in Toulouse-Lautrec's Montmartre.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Six-Nations Rugby Week 4: Living Dangerously

It was a typical Scottish strangling job - tackle and ruck like demons, stifle all open play, and kick penalties from all points of the compass. And we nearly succumbed to it. The Scots played with more passion than us, we had expended too much for the English match and this always seemed like an anti-climax. In the end a bit of luck and a bit of class saw us through. O'Gara took his lucky break well and kicked his penalties while Hickie made a great tackle. The rest is silence.

The England/France match was much more interesting. The England pack demolished the French and if they'd had some decent centres, they'd have won easily. Catt made one sublime break for Flood's try but otherwise was limted and Tindall is just a great lumbering lummox. Even Lewsey at full-back was off form. But the half backs were brilliant - Flood and Ellis were lively and creative in all they did and Wilkinson was not missed. The revelation was Geraghty when he came on the replace the injured Flood. In appearance and style he reminded me of Richard Sharp - that great running out half of the mid-Sixties. So now it seems that England have 3 quality out-halves - actually four if you count the injured Hodgson.

Wales have hardly won a match since they sacked their Grand Slam winning coach. Their performance against Italy was limp in the extreme - and Stephen Jones seems to have deteriorated drastically since he returned from France (mind you the dig in the snitch he got from Bargamasco can't have helped). They will be eating from the Wooden Spoon next week.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Up the Aras

Went on a tour of the Aras an Uachtaran art collection yesterday, under the auspices of the Business2Arts organisation. The tour was run by Pat Murphy who runs the Office of Public Works (OPW) art collection. This is a huge collection funded by a levying a percentage of all new development undertaken by the State - a considerable amount of money. While there are permanent exhibits in the Aras, each president gets to choose pieces from the OPW collection and so put their own personal stamp on the Aras collection.

The best came first. In the ante-room where we gathered for tea and biscuits there were 5 enormous Hughie O'Donoghue pieces - crucifixions and studies in melancholy. These were donated to the state by an American business man. They are tortured and disturbing images not at all what I expected to see in the President's house. In the main entrance hall there are pieces by Tony O'Malley, Felim Egan, Jacinta Feeney and a small exquisite le Brocquy. The Feeney piece is a multi-coloured mess and should be thrown out - the other pieces are worthy and representative of the artists.

In the breakfast room there are 3 beautiful Scully prints - including one I have in my dining room. There's also a large figurative Alice Maher painting (oil pastel I think) and a truly awful abstract piece my Maria Simonds-Gooding. In one of the state roooms there are portraits of all past presidents - the two that stand out for me are Basil Blackshaw's portrait of Mary Robinson and Sean O'Sullivan's moody piece of De Valera. Elsewhere pieces that caught the eye were a haunting portrait of the ill-fated Harry Clarke by his wife and a great portrait of Jack Yeats by Lilian Davidson.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Georgia on My Mind

Went to the launch of the Georgia O'Keefe show at IMMA last night, opened by Thomas Foley , the American ambassador to Ireland. Much ado about nothing I felt. A very poor selection, with only one dark abstract piece catching my eye. IMMA doesn't loom large on the world stage and so it obviously had difficulty getting any of the major works. There were none of her large flower pieces, or her desert bones - apart from a straightforward sunflower and one clumsy bone in a desert offering. A lot of the work dated from before she met Stieglitz and before she moved to New Mexico - the two major influences on her art. The work seemed flat, pallid and uninteresting to me - I'm not a great fan of pastel colours anyway . I like her large ambiguous flowers - full of pistils, stamens and fecundity, not the dried up abstract offerings we got in Kilmainham..

The ambassador was introduced by the director of IMMA, Enrique Juncosa. His English has improved dramatically since he moved here a few years ago and he made a short and succinct speech touching on O'Keefe's Irish origins. Foley, of course, is a former Harvard buddy of Bush's and was sent into Iraq after the invasion to privatise the semi-state sectors. He famously described Iraq as a "modern California gold rush” - how wrong can you be. He made a mercifully brief formulaic speech from notes - spouting about the contribution of Ireland to American culture.

There were a fair few artists in attendance including Alice Maher very upbeat about her move to Mayo; John Noel Smith buoyed by a sell-out show in Cork's Vangard Gallery; and the ubiquitous Gwen O'Dowd. Aidan Dunne was there as well - unusual for him, he doesn't attend many openings, but I suppose Georgia can hardly hassle him about his Irish times review.

You wonder about all the time and effort that went into something so insubstantial.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Duffy Undunne

While it's long been evident that Joe Duffy (host of RTE's Liveline) is a ninny, or at best a concerned fool, he really outdid himself yesterday. He brought Ben Dunne on to discuss his new art venture, along with some worthies from the Irish art scene - the fragrant Tara Murphy from the Solomon Gallery, and everyones' favourite socialist republican artist, Bobby Ballagh. Dunne's motor mouth dominated the show and he was allowed use our national broadcaster for a prolonged plug for his new gallery, and while he was at it throw in a few puffs for his gym business. Duffy should of course have nipped this in the bud, but he gave him free rein and a fortune in free advertising.

However, Dunne's venture is doomed to failure, I feel, because the art world is very precious and elitist and neither the better artists nor the discerning punters will want anything to do with the Dunne brand. He may capture the easy on the eye, interior design end of the spectrum (much like the stuff you see at the art fairs in the RDS), but he won't get the top tier of artists.