Sunday, May 29, 2011

Treble Joy

I put my money where my mouth was this sporting weekend and did a reasonably substantial treble on Munster to beat Leinster (11-8), Barcelona to beat Manchester United in 90 minutes (evens), and Tipperary to beat Cork by 4 points or more (evens). It sure added a piquancy to my enjoyment of these three events.

I always felt the Munster win was the most predictable - Munster's need was greater and Leinster would surely have a metaphorical and in some cases perhaps literal hangover from the Heineken Cup. I reckoned Barcelona had too much creativity for United although I was nervous it may go further than 90 minutes. I was sure Tipp would beat Cork in Thurles but the match odds of 4-11 didn't appeal so I took the handicap of -4 points - a small risk I thought.

Munster made me sweat a while, Barcelona won comfortably but I had to endure the death of 1,000 cuts before Tipp finally pulled away from Cork in the last few minutes. God bless Benny Dunne (and Eoin Cadogan) - I take back all previous imprecations.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This Cultural Week: Paul Theroux, Roger Waters and a Load of Arse

Highlight of the cultural week for me was Paul Theroux’s appearance at a Dublin Writer’s Week event in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity. This event was only slightly tainted by the self-important prick (Colin Murphy) who introduced him. At one stage this creature corrected Theroux’s use of “twittering” instead of “tweeting” when any normal civilised welcoming person would have let it go. Theroux came across as an amiable cove, comfortable in his own skin and un-phased by the occasional awkward question. He looks younger than his 70 years and I’d say there are a few journeys left in him yet. He spoke very warmly of Dervla Murphy and her method of travelling - go to obscure spots and get among the people. He also spoke warmly of Joyce whom he quoted at length and Chekov. Surprisingly he gave a friendly nod to his old nemesis Naipaul also. He was very adamant that there were no fictional elements in his travel books and was quite critical of Bruce Chatwin for his cavalier attitude in this regard – especially in Songlines.

Roger Waters The Wall in the O2 Theatre on Tuesday was a triumph of stagecraft, design, and general pyrotechnics – however, apart from an epic version of Comfortably Numb the music left me unmoved. We had plane crashes with real flames (I felt the heat), 30 foot monsters, spectacular collapsing walls, and a large pig floating over the audience. The agit prop slogans have been updated to include references to Iraq and Afghanistan and the iPhone and iPod “i” prefixes some of the typographical elements. Waters’ voice is very limited but he was supported by a very competent band and the cracks were well covered. The star of the show for me was the splendidly grotesque graphics by Gerald Scarfe.

A seminar on Art Criticism Now in the LAB seemed like it might be of interest given the limited nature of art criticism in this country. However as soon as David Berridge (doyen of the Wild Pansy Press and creator of various “chapbooks” on art) started talking I knew I was in trouble. I am just not interested in the connection between “experimental poetics and art practice” and the notion of “performant criticism” makes me feel queasy. There was no grist for the mill of my mind in all this – it slip slid away. Berridge’s gratuitous esotericisms were followed by an interview between Caoimhin MacGiolla Leith and the performance artist Amanda Coogan. This started out by CMGL apologizing to his right on audience for the many conventional pieces of art criticism he has done to order – presumably a reference to those Tony O’Malley pieces he did for the IMMA catalogue. He spent a lengthy period establishing his credentials (the Tate got mentioned a few times) before he began his discussion with the bould Coogan – whose well-known breasts were peeping becomingly out her dress. Any attempt at talking high-flown arse by CMGL was met with a straight bat by the commonsensical Coogan. She maintained that whether it was review or academic criticism she welcomed it all as valuable PR. She spoke of gaining acceptance by the Boston Museum of Art recently based on the volume of reviews she was able to bring along to the interview. An amusing side show to this encounter was their differing pronunciation of “ephemeral”. Cooogan favoured a long second “e” while CMGL went for a short one. And it should be noted that this word got used umpteen times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Annual RHA Debacle

Clubs make me queasy: the forced camaraderie with arseholes you wouldn’t give the time of day to if they weren’t in the same club; the spurious loyalty at the expense of honest appraisal, the petty rules and committees, the little Hitlers that enjoy such circumscribed and uncritical milieus.

But arts clubs make me especially uneasy. I have this romantic notion that artists should exist outside the confines of regular society: free-ranging, self-sustaining and ultimately independent critical entities. That’s why I consider the smug self-perpetuating oligarchy that is Aosdana to be beyond ridicule. And the pathetic eagerness and self-abnegation shown by aspirants to join this ridiculous club as a badge of their inauthenticity as artists.

Which brings us to the RHA. Much to bitch about here. As republicans do we really need a royal academy. Why not just the Hibernian Academy. And then we have the anachronistic robes – blue and wine coloured. Why? Are they to show that like the legal profession they are not as ordinary mortals? It’s bloody ridiculous. And why does the catalogue feature every year photographs of the selection committee going about their seemingly earnest and aesthetically critical business when we all know that any old shite by an academy member will get in and that an uncanny number of old NCAD heads and worthy veterans of the Dublin art scene also get the nod no matter what. Open submission me bollix. It’s a joke.

At the opening last night, in an effort to be trendy, Pat Murphy and his RHA staff wore white t-shirts as if the were officiating at an FM104 promotion – in stark contrast to the members of the academy in their robed finery – an oxymoronic juxtaposition that just didn’t work lads. Pat at the door greeting the great and good in their opening night finery looked as if he’d been caught unawares while finishing the hanging.

Let’s move on to the art. It’s astonishing that with 585 pieces on view there was so little that actually stood out. I remember the really bad works best. There’s a truly awful, Barrie Cooke called Sitting Figure, painted in 2007 and priced bizzarely at €31,701. This work is so bad it’s either taking the piss or signifies an artist that has lost his mojo and should stick to fishing – his alleged first love. The worst piece in the show, by which I mean the last piece you would choose to hang in your house, is a flat lifeless self-portrait of George Potter. Potter is a Chestertonian figure, and an RHA stalwart, whom we probably shouldn’t mock – but if you were doing a study of pomposity you couldn’t better this image. Maybe he should just have changed the title. Then there’s James Hanley’s portrait of the Chief Justice John Murray. I’ve no doubt Murray is a pillar of probity and a sound family man but Hanley’s depiction suggests one of the more corrupt and sinister of the later Roman emperors. I could go on but I’m getting bored. Liam Belton’s "so what" still lifes – all craft and no art; worthy efforts as usual by RHA hardy annuals like Bolay and Shelbourne; Pauline Bewick’s over priced book illustrations; Richard Gorman’s slices of interior design – for the confirmed bachelor market; an over fussy Felim Egan; weird minimalist water-colours by Vivienne Roche; bowl shaped tricksy pieces by Bridget Flannery – an artist I once much admired for her austere abstract studies; and of course a whole host of academic dross. I’ll exclude James English from that – he’s changed direction a bit and remains a class act. The stand out piece was a large bleak seascape by Donald Teskey that sold for €50,000. Other than that there was the usual elegance from Eilis O’Connell , a fine spumey Gwen O’Dowd, a couple of Mary Lohans going in a new direction, and a little piece by Katherine Boucher Beug that has lingered on my mind.

And by the way can you believe that they charged for water at the opening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rancid Ruminations May 2011

This country is a joke. RTE did an excellent expose last night on the complete lack of controls over the taxi industry and on egregious corruption at the NCT. The body responsible, the NTA, refused to come on the programme to give an account of their stewardship. This is a body paid for by the tax payers but they don't deem themselves accountable to anyone. And no doubt nothing will befall them in the way of consequences. I think I'll move to Italy. At least you get decent food and weather over there along with your corruption and incompetence.

The sight of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, being paraded before the beak in New York the day after his alleged crime shows again that the US care little for privilege and position where the law is concerned. Don't for one minute believe that a prominent Irish person accused of such a crime would ever be arraigned with such alacrity. Gardai would carry out thorough investigations. Files would be sent to the DPP. Heels would drag. Barristers would prevaricate. And justice would either be delayed or ignored.

The Queen eh - hard to care much either way about her visit. As a republican (in the French sense) I am a little queasy about the notion of royalty and being a subject - but the average Brit seems to be happy enough to go along with it. She's a great boon for their tourist industry but surely she could be had a lot cheaper. Also, I care little for the braying arrogance and relentless philistinism of the House of Windsor. And I can't stand corgis. I note she's visiting Cashel and Coolmore - her love of horses is her redeeming feature.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

John Doherty at Taylor Galleries

It was good to see a buzzing well-attended opening at the Taylor Galleries - things have been a bit bleak in recent times. I'm wondering if the unusual Friday opening was the reason or, more likely, the popularity of John Doherty's work. I first encountered his work about 16 years ago when he had a show in the Taylor entirely devoted to old characterful petrol pumps - or "bowsers" as they're called in this show - an Australian term I believe. I met him briefly at the time and liked his amiability and lack of preciousness.These days he's still painting old petrol pumps with personality, rusty old buoys and other marine equipment, and, most evocatively, small town shop fronts.The key to John's work is not the photographic precision of the images (which is remarkable) but the choice of subject matter. This is seen best in the desolate streetscapes of small town Ireland: Youghal, Rosscarberry, Ennistymon, Union Hall, Goleen and Carrick-on-Suir are featured in this show. He captures some kind of squalid ennui. You can feel the aridity of the daily round in such places. There are humourous touches amid the bleakness - the dog on a mission in Homeward Bound for example. The marine pieces are the least interesting - they seem lined up for our delectation rather like rusty versions of Liam Belton's cold academic still lifes. It's interesting to see that the prices are maintained at a level close to what prevailed in the boom times - this in stark contrast to what the auction houses are doing.They ranges from €3,500 for 18 x 18 cm pieces to €25,000 for 80 x 122 cms. And on the opening night it was heartening to see that around half of the 24 works had sold.