'Radharc' - the best view in New York
An exhibition by six contemporary Irish painters on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan offers a perfect platform for their work – and especially so given there’s also a hot attraction across the road at the Met, writes SINEAD GLEESON
FRIDAY EVENING: New York’s Museum Mile. Sitting in front of the open window of a Manhattan townhouse is Oliver Sears. The elegant building is straight out of Edith Wharton, and is now home to the American Irish Historical Society (AIHS).
Sears, best known as the owner of a Dublin city centre art gallery, is in New York to launch Radharc, an exhibition of six contemporary Irish painters. Ireland is a small country and its arts circles (and audiences) are minnows compared to a city considered the centre of the art market. It’s a tough world to crack, but intimate, considered group shows such as this one aim to provide a platform.
“These artists are all mid-career, established and working from all different parts for Ireland,” says Sears, “but they are not widely known in the US. Radharc is an opportunity to bring them into an incredible space – an Irish space – on Fifth Avenue opposite the Met [the Metropolitan Museum of Art] at a time when the New York Frieze is in town.”
Last year’s Imagine Ireland events and the ongoing work of Culture Ireland help foster transatlantic cultural connections, but this exhibition is predicated on personal connections and a shared interest in promoting Irish visual art. The six artists – Hughie O’Donoghue, Katherine Boucher Beug, Keith Wilson, Stephen Lawlor, Colin Davidson and Donald Teskey – were selected by Sears. “These are artists I believe in and admire, who come from all parts of Ireland and whose practices vary. This is a ‘painting’ show, so it can’t be a true reflection of Irish contemporary art, but I believe it’s an interesting selection of really gifted Irish-based painters.”
Someone else with a shared desire to offer Irish painters a New York forum is Christopher Cahill, executive director of the AIHS. “We wanted to create a genuine dialogue and to broaden the notion of what Irish art is. Irish literature, poetry and theatre are more widely known, but visual art isn’t.”
The idea of the Irish artist whose interests extend outside of their own medium persists. Cultural overlap happens, and Radharc opened in the week Once the musical received 11 Tony nominations. Proving this point is Colin Davidson’s intense portrait of Glen Hansard: a painting by an artist of a musician whose work has been turned into theatre. Katherine Boucher Beug relates to this artistic cross-pollination. Born in the US, she spent her early childhood in New York, before moving to Ireland. “I originally went to Ireland wanting to be a poet. I fell in love with Yeats as a teenager and one thing that has become clear to me at this stage of my painting career – and with these works in particular – is how influenced by writing and poetry they are. There is a definite overlap in process.”