Show and tell: the art of running a gallery
All of this makes online archives important. The Hugh Lane has a particularly good online archive, as do the Ulster Museum and the National Gallery. The Crawford’s, frustratingly, is not searchable. Imma has been working for some time on cataloguing its collection.
Do the directors regard the market as a force for good or bad in the art world?
As museums are often priced out of the running when it comes to buying work by our most famous artists, many of the directors are ambivalent about the art market. Most would agree with Glennie that “the market is an important element in the overall ecosystem that makes up a sustainable, vibrant art world”, but Carey believes there is a “skewed dominance of the market, going from healthy to imbalanced”, as it plays with the value of art “like a cat with a trapped mouse”.
Rainbird suggests it creates dynamism in the art world, although Seamus Kealy of the Model in Sligo has seen its mechanisms promote an “incredible amount of derivative art nonsense – pastiche”. Patrick T Murphy of the Royal Hibernian Academy regards it as “becoming more and more separated from the making of art”; Barbara Dawson of Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane concludes that “the market is a fact, always has been. It is the ability to be able to read it, as well as go beyond it, that is important.”
What are the biggest surprises the directors have encountered in their roles?
The most surprising aspect of the directors’ answers is how positive they seem. Murphy cites a double-digit percentage increase in attendance at the RHA, and Cooke says he is surprised by visitors’ response to the refurbished Ulster Museum – more than 1.7 million people have come since 2009.
All this positivity is summed up by Dawson, who points to “the can-do determination of all. In the arts, it has brought forward spirited initiatives, new projects and collaborations.”
Nevertheless, while Kealy notes the “increased tendency for institutions and organisations to collaborate more and share resources”,
Carey, who had been working as a freelance curator, has the most recent experience of life outside the supportive atmosphere of an institution. “In Limerick I don’t have to defend working in the visual arts in Ireland. It feels very much like the leading art form, so it’s great – and in Ireland especially surprising – to feel that conversations start from a positive point.”
Why be a director? Don’t curators have more fun?
At the RHA and in Limerick and Sligo, the roles are combined, and Murphy points out that the distinction is “a bit artificial, as every financial decision has implications for the artistic programme and every artistic decision has financial consequences”. Carey adds, “A healthy tension must exist between the two functions: artistic ambition has to challenge a framework always.”
Peter Murray of Crawford Art Gallery Cork says that curators “without doubt” have the best of it. Dawson warns, “Beware of accepting perceptions as realities! Working with artists and the visual arts presents its own sets of challenges, but the creativity involved is without doubt stimulating and rewarding.”
What is the biggest challenge the directors face?
The overwhelming response is to do with money. “State support has to be earned,” says Murphy. Most allude, too, to maintaining and engaging with audiences as cuts continue. Rainbird, in the thick of the National Gallery refurbishment, also addresses organisational issues: “We are examining the structure of the staff, and doing so with a view to greater co-operation with Imma and the Crawford Art Gallery, as part of the Government’s reform agenda.”