Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Paddle Puzzle

I attended Whytes art auction in the RDS last Monday for an hour or so to gauge the temperature of the art market. There was an enormous crowd there and the RTE cameras were in attendance. Business seemed good and in addition to the usual suspects (Le Brocquy, Dan O'Neill, Teskey etc.) a number of pieces went for surprisingly good prices. a Seamus O'Colmain of a Dublin street scene fetched €19,000 from a guide price of €3,000 and a clinical Liam Belton got €29,000 (guide price €20,000). There was an exquisite small Shinnors ("Evening Study at Window III") that went for €16,000.

One surprising feature of the auction was that of the 60 lots I witnessed, none were withdrawn. This seems unprecedented to me. However looking at Whytes web site today I notice that a number of pieces that seemed to have been sold (William Scott's "Children in Street", Tony O'Malley's "Bahamas" , Le Brocquy's "Resurrection" and an early Teskey for example) are actually listed as unsold. Curious eh. Each of these pieces had a paddle number assigned at the auction - usually an indication of being sold. Maybe it's a way of avoiding negative vibes at an auction.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Droit de Suite

A meeting last night in Buswell's Hotel to discuss the current state of this newly enfroced law. Salient points:

- Robert Ballagh set the scene by recounting the sad story of Madge Campbell - the poor old widow of George. She died in very straitened circumstances while his work sold for thousands at auction.
- There was a general consensus that the law on droit de suite was rushed in and poorly drafted leading to many anomalies. It was brought in hastily to prempt Ballagh's High Court case.
- Very few artists actually benefit: le Brocquy get about 35% of the total (which is around €350K so far in 2007).
- Whytes impose the levy on the purchaser although the law says the vendor should pay.
- Ian Whyte makes the point that in a buyer's market it would kill the business if the vendor were hit. He is also following Sotheby's practise.
- Whytes are holding the money in a special account and not actually paying it out becaause the law is too vague he claims.
- Ballagh took exception to this strategy saying that it could take many years before the law is revisited and that its not that vague.
- The payment to the estates of dead artists is derogated until 2012 - Whytes said the auctioneers would fight this to prevent it happening at all.
- In Ireland there is no official collection mechanism - IVARO is looking to be the de facto agency (le Brocquy is a member). Ian Whyte said he would support their role.
- In England this levy only applies again after 3 years have elapsed - in Ireland this is not covered so in theory there could be a droit de suite liability 3 or 4 times in a few years - this will impact the dealers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gwen O'Dowd at the Hillsboro Gallery

I’ve been an admirer of Gwen O’Dowd’s painting for a long time. I remember picking up an early Snowdonia more than 12 years ago and later buying a big Grand Canyon work in the Kerlin Gallery. Over the past six or seven years she 's been doing a prolonged Uaimh series - dark ambiguous works with areas of rich colours. I also got a kick out of her wonderful characterful self-portrait in the National Self-Portrait Gallery in Limerick.

Her work is usually dark mysterious and vaguely figurative. Is that a womb, the void, or a rock cave in the West of Ireland? Her work lends itself to such speculation. The Grand Canyon series was somewhat of an anomaly in that the work could be related to an actual physical landscape. Although every time I look at my piece I also see ribs of beef - with the red rocks suggesting meat.

Her latest show in the Hillsboro Gallery in Parnell Square proved worth persisting with appalling Pearse Street traffic to attend. It’s a wonderful spacious gallery presided over by the benign John Daly. The work – a lot of it quite large – was given plenty of room to breathe. It could be described as the Uaimh series with added water. You still have the rich colours (greens and blues predominate) and the dark void, but now there are cascades of water rushing from the depths or crashing over the rocks. If there is a flaw with her paintings, and in general I am a big admirer, it's that sometimes her composition jars, they can seem unbalanced. But the colour, texture, and moody drama of her work more than compensates for this occasional shortcoming.

There was a good attendance of art people at the show but not that many punters. Neil Jordan was there, the Campbell Bruces of course, Mary Lohan, and the fragrant Siobhan McDonald. Afterwards Gwen and the amiable Phelim (her partner) held a reception in her splendid studio nearby - great food and plenty of Prosecco.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Form is Fickle, Class is Permanent

This match caught my attention a few weeks ago and I tried to capture why in the ensuing blog but don't think I succeeded. Maybe my interest was piqued by the contrast between Sharapova's demeanour before the match and her actual performance.

Maria Sharapova is no Kournokova. Despite being one of the tastiest dishes on the women’s tennis circuit, she has won two Grand Slam titles and is a steely competitor. A lot of Eastern Bloc players lose their hunger when the dollars start rolling in but this has not happened to Sharapova. Her modest origins and her early struggles in the US have stiffened her resolve. Of late however the little sweetie has been out of sorts with a shoulder injury and hasn’t been playing much. Her last competitive match was in the US Open where she departed early to a nonentity.

So her end-of-season appearance at the WTA Masters in Madrid against the bang in-form Daniela Hantuchova seemed to be merely perfunctory. Fulfilling a contractual obligation. Prior to the match that amiable old broiler Pam Shriver interviewed both players before they went on court. Hantuchova exuded confidence – after the interview she bounced off eager to get going. Conversely Sharapova was nervous and unusually surly - her greasy hair and rash of pimples contributed to a sense that tonight was not going to be her night. She walked onto the court as one who was walking to her execution.

Aside from her injury and her lack of match practice, the one big flaw in Sharapova’s game has been her brittle serve – frequently breaking down under pressure. Her recent shoulder injury suggested that she would have trouble again in this area. A betting man would have loaded on Hantuchova.

But out of nowhere, after a tentative start (losing her first service game) Sharapova overcame her rustiness and began to dominate like the true champion she is. You could see her blossom as the serve started to work - helped perhaps by a modified action. Hantuchova’s perkiness began to wane and her lighter ground strokes were exposed as Sharapova hammered winners from all angles. The transformation was total.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Art and Graft

The following is an open letter from John Kelly the artist to Peter Murray concerning the Crawford Open - and the thorny issue of selection for open submission shows in Ireland. We're all familiar with the random nature of the RHA's selection policy. This letter seems to be suggesting that cliques and coteries prevail in these circumstances. Judge for yourself.

Dear Peter
I have concerns about the recent selection of work for ‘The sleep of reason’ exhibition, which despite the entry form disclaimer and the denial of further correspondence, should be opened to public debate. For advertising it as the ‘Crawford Open’, with international jurors Enrique Juncosa (Irish Museum of Modern Art) and Frances Morris (Tate Modern) gave the impression it was open to all, with each artist paying for their work to be assessed without prejudice or favour. However the facts as shown below suggest otherwise.
It is worth noting that although submissions from Cork based artists would have made up a significant percentage of the entries, not one artist, currently living and working in Cork survived the cull of 750 entries. I believe if we look at the selected artists we find the reason why. For more than half of the fifteen artists selected are connected in some way to the institutions that the two jurors represent and of the rest, nearly all are art students being given an opportunity (Michael Gurhy, the only artist who might be considered to be living in Cork was amongst this group and is currently at St Martins in London).
For example Mai Yamashita and Naoto Kobayashi from Germany exhibited at the Tate Modern earlier this year. Frances Morris is responsible for international art at the Tate.
The other Kobayashi in the exhibition, Fumiko did not exhibit at the Tate and is not related to Naoto but all three attended the same art-college in Japan and later in Germany together. They have also exhibited together and Mai and Naoto informed me they are good friends with Fumiko. Maybe their selection, like their name, is pure coincidence because stranger things have happened.
It is no coincidence that Frances Morris is aware of selected artist Paul McAree, because for a number of years he worked alongside her as an administrator in ‘Exhibitions and Displays’ at the Tate Modern. McAree also started the Colony gallery in Birmingham where he is a Director, curator and where he exhibits another selected artist, Michelle Deignan.
The other juror, Enrique Juncosa would be very aware of Tom Molloy, Andrew Vickery and Abigail O’Brien for they all have work within the IMMA collection and Martin Healy is currently undertaking a residency at the museum.
Five of the other artists are all students or have graduated within the last year. Four have also had other careers, being an investment banker, a visual merchandiser, graphic designer and one as an accountant/gallery director (another pattern?). Except for one they are all London based art students.
The Tate Gallery was very much part of the London ‘putsch’ that re-branded the UK as ‘Cool Britannia’ in the late nineties. A beneficiary of this re-branding are the London art schools that each year reap significant amounts of income, from overseas students who dream of being ‘discovered’ in the annual college exhibitions. ‘The sleep of reason’ selection simply reinforces this cultural lottery where international students pay thousands to enter the competition.
I am in no way suggesting that the artists and students are not worthy of being included and in some ways the selection process is understandable in reinforcing the two institutions previous curatorial relationships whilst reiterating London’s position as being the centre of the mythical ‘art-world’. However once the connections and patterns of selection are revealed it does lead to the question of just how open was the Crawford ‘Open’? And were we charged a fee or did we make a donation?
Maybe the biggest coincidence of all is the title of the exhibition, for I understand it originates from Goya’s series of etchings titled ‘Los Caprichos’. The most famous of these etchings is "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos": the sleep of reason brings forth monsters. Goya, who having applied several times to become the court painter, only to be rejected, described the series as being based on "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual . . .”
I look forward to a response but would understand if you invoke the entry form disclaimer.
John Kelly
Cc: Enrique Juncosa
Cc: France Morris
Cc: Dawn Williams

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bertie Unmasked

Bertie's benign indifference to principles, ethics, or even the basic decencies has been demonstrated once again for the slow of learning - the lame-brained Irish electorate. To accept a €38K annual increase at a time when the health service has a hiring freeze, the economy is in decline, tax rises are imminent and the unions are getting restless suggests his contempt for the Irish people is total. He knows that 40% of them will continue to vote for FF no matter how much shit he makes them eat. And by the way, the notion that in any way our politicians' salaries can be compared to those in the private sector is just a joke. The private sector don't have bullet-proof pensions - and they work considerably longer hours.

On top of this brutish money grubbing, Bertie and the boys have passed a law specifically to enable Michael Woods get hold of a substantial back pension payment. This brings to mind a special law passed by Bertie to benefit the property developer Ken Rohan back in the Nineties - while he was in the middle of some bother with the Revenue Commissioners about the value of his art collection. Forget the common good. Here in our tawdry tinpot republic we look after our own, the rest of you can rot in hell.

Now that he's not going for election again he can remove the mask. And what's revealed is a face no different than that of his old boss.