Empty pockets, but rich pickings in art
Despite a lack of funding and reduced support in 2012, artists rose to the challenge and created brilliant work
Early this year, two important positions in the Irish art world were filled after prolonged speculation. Sarah Glennie took over as director of Imma, following the highly successful tenure of Enrique Juncosa, and Sean Rainbird took the reins at the National Gallery, following the retirement of Raymond Keaveney, long a steady hand in one of our most closely watched, jealously regarded national institutions.
Glennie and Rainbird took on formidable challenges, some overlapping. They both had to face directly into talks about the startling, Twilight-like resurrection of the plan to amalgamate Imma, the National Gallery and the Crawford Art Gallery. Both of them are dealing with very difficult budgets, with serious implications for programme planning, acquisitions and staffing. And their two galleries are undergoing significant renovation and refurbishment, necessitating the closure of Imma’s main galleries and a large proportion of the National Gallery at Merrion Square. Encouragingly, the signs so far are that they are more than up to the challenges.
Not everything in the garden was rosy, however. Opened in 2009, Carlow’s Visual National Centre for Contemporary Art ran smack into the recession from the word go. The board’s decision not to renew director Carissa Farrell’s contract, despite praise for her programming, signalled a rethink about how it functions.
Visual is a large-scale venue and there’s been comment that its scale is at variance with its location. To build an audience commensurate with the scale of the galleries would take time and thoughtful work, and the town may have nursed unrealistic expectations, perhaps based on the enthusiastic response to the annual Éigse festival. But while audiences can be relied upon to flock to festivals, they are less likely to attend regular exhibitions.
Interestingly, Athlone has taken a different tack with its recently opened Luan Gallery. It is capacious but modestly scaled, in a carefully adapted and transformed, widely liked building, centrally positioned in the town. A studio residency schedule and arts workshops were in place a year in advance, and the gallery is linked to another tourist amenity, the adjacent castle. Expectations seem realistic.
Andy Warhol’s aphoristic equation of art with business is not unrealistic or unreasonable if you consider the international art market and headline news stories. People routinely equate art and market value, as though it’s like winning the lottery. By that reckoning, monetary value is the bottom line. But long before the auction houses, the oligarchs and the headline writers get there, art is born out of passion and conviction far removed from the profit motive. There are perpetual efforts – so far not entirely successful – to keep it outside of that domain completely.
In the middle ground, we have “commercial” galleries, mostly run by people who are, indeed, passionate and committed. If they weren’t, we would not have anything like the number of galleries that currently survive here. In the new Ireland, everybody owes money or is owed money and artists and gallerists are no exception. Year on year, the art market is struggling. Routinely, artists subsidise their art. They make work because they feel compelled to, but it costs rather than earns them money.