Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Groupthink at the RHA

Eilis O'Connell Grown/Made


The RHA Annual show is upon us in all its problematical glory. There are 565 pieces on display - around half of which are mandatorily included because they are by members or invitees. The balance is a small percentage of the thousands submitted. A further twist is the largish number of people invited to exhibit - 47 this year. What's the criterion here? Are they being considered for membership? Slept with a member? Married to a member? Went to NCAD? Who knows. There is a problem with all this. The fingerprints of a small clique are all over the show. The work included is without exception either by an RHA member or approved by RHA members. So lay aside this open submission malarkey. This is a narrow clique's view of art. The 1800 or so lost souls whose work was rejected, and who paid €15 a piece for the insult, can console themselves that they're keeping the RHA members' bellies with good capon lined - and maybe the odd glass of claret. Oh very well - and those studios and excellent life-drawing classes.

That's not to say of course that there's nothing interesting to see here. There are dozens of fine pieces. A powerful portrait by Francis O'Toole, classy sculpture by Eilis O'Connell and Don Cronin, a great flowing landscape by Donald Teskey, an exquisitely elegant abstract by Siobhan McDonald, Martin Gale's sinister rural images, and a fine line in grotesquery by David Begley. And there's an even greater amount of good solid work by hardy annuals such as Veronica Bolay, Anita Shelbourne, Mick O'Dea and James English.

The problem is that it's all achingly safe and conservative. There is a genuine requirement for an open submission show where the panel of judges is drawn from a pool larger than the worthies in the RHA - all nice folk but inevitably prone to groupthink. We could bring in some outsiders, some academics, some art school crackpots, some continental influence even, to see if we can uncover more fresh, vibrant and original work. Maybe Google or some large organisation can sponsor such a show and use it as a high-profile marketing gig like the Turner Prize. Get the diverse selection committee together, limit the selection to about 200 pieces, and see what it throws up.