A young gallery's good for competition
VISUAL ARTS:Dublin's commercial gallery scene has never been as varied and vibrant as it is now, yet many artists have been saying that the city needs more galleries.
The reason is that, if the job is to be done properly, any one gallery can only represent a relatively small number of artists, and competition is fierce. In this context, the opening of the Oonagh Young Gallery last week marks an interesting development.
Its address, 1 James Joyce Street, sounds almost iconic. In fact James Joyce Street was formerly Corporation Street and the gallery is adjacent to The LAB, the city council's enterprising contemporary art space on Foley Street.
For both galleries, it is a tough location, well away from the cluster of city centre venues. They occupy a streetscape, however, that is not dissimilar to the art quarter in Chelsea in New York: tracts of newly built, plain, functional commercial and residential properties. The Oonagh Young Gallery is not quite on the scale of the average Chelsea space, but it has something of the same white cube-ish feeling about it.
The inaugural show, Twosome Twiminds, nods to the renamed setting, evoking Joyce's description of creative play affording "two thinks at a time". A threesome of artists features, and their work, the gallery says, investigates "notions of duality, appropriation and transformation". Of the three, Mary Ruth Walsh is a familiar name, having exhibited widely in Ireland, while the other two, Kris Emmerson and Shane Bradford, are young London-based artists.
Walsh's work characteristically subverts our sense of scale, reworking packaging and domestic products as architectonic environments, linking individual micro-experiences to macro global economics and touching on questions of gender roles and social convention. Her pieces are put together with clinical precision. She is represented here, though, with peripheral examples rather than a substantial project, probably because space is limited.
Given which, Bradford fares best, because his work is small. In fact it is book-scale and consists of second-hand books, generally copies of classics, including Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Each copy is dipped repeatedly in containers of gloss paint, the colours apparently chosen to resemble those on the book cover. The end results are not, as you might expect, amorphous messes, but curious hybrids, painterly and sculptural objects that maintain something of the aura of the literary work and are also toy-like.
Emmerson's sculptural composite for now and forever with ellipsis, combining digital animation, shaped plywood and other materials, is a really striking piece of work. An unspecified, wormlike organism undulating across the gallery floor, its eyes are two television monitors on which we see rotating, globular forms. It's playful but also ominous, suggesting an endless process of evolutionary adaptation. It also brilliantly solves a perennial problem of installation art: what to do with the ubiquitous, intrusive video monitor. Here, they are part of the artwork, and that's that.
WATERFORD'S DYEHOUSE GALLERY was situated in Mary Street for a time, and another commercial gallery, handily named the Mary Street Gallery, opened there last November. It currently features an extremely likeable show, Road Trip, by Clare Scott. In 48 small-scale paintings (including 10 in a panoramic format), she documents a solo journey in the United States undertaken in 2006. She begins and ends at Dublin Airport, beginning with a 4am view of her room at the Clarion Hotel and concluding with a view of the airport itself.
What's particularly engaging about the work is her matter-of-factness. She records the ordinary as well as the spectacular, paying due attention to rumpled beds in nondescript motel rooms, the condiments arranged on the tables in "drive-thru restaurants" and the inside of the launderette in San Luis Obispo. She does the standard tourist things, including visiting Alcatraz in San Francisco, and checking out dinosaur footprints and Monument Valley in Arizona. She is alert to what is considered conventionally beautiful and remarkable, but also to what is beautiful in the everyday sense, in details of our environment that are utilitarian and virtually invisible.
The result is a personal journal in visual form, a direct and unpretentious narrative that is cumulatively engaging. She notes that the trip was "a kind of escape", a bid "to flee in order to regroup". Each painting is like a snapshot but, unlike a photographic snapshot, each slows down our gaze, bidding us to follow the artist's considered attention to things. Perhaps that is why the mood is so affirmative. What might have been formulaic becomes intensely personal and meditative, and encourages us to look at the world with greater patience and appreciation.
ALSO IN WATERFORD, at Greyfriars, Ben Hennessy's substantial exhibition Journey to Lir has just ended. The journey of the title was the artist's own. Commissioned to make a painting based on the myth of the Children of Lir, he embarked on a series of exploratory works in a bid to arrive at a definitive image. His show was an ambitious and fascinating one, detailing a process rather than merely serving up the end result, and the installation, over two storeys, was careful and cohesive - as one would expect, perhaps, from someone with a significant track record in set design for the theatre (including I, Keano).
As he acknowledged in an accompanying note, from the first he was particularly interested in the moment of transformation, as the hapless children were changed into swans by their callous stepmother.
For Hennessy, the narrative was a kind of fuel to be converted into energy in the painting process. And indeed the work he exhibited was fiercely energetic. He clearly concurs with Hogarth's belief that "the line of beauty" is a sinuous S, and virtually every piece was dominated by an S-shaped axis on which the composition didn't so much turn as spin.
He pursued this pattern through a series of closely argued, involving studies of great rhythmic drive and intensity, accomplished to the extent that they tended to overshadow the larger paintings, which were perhaps less resolved. Hennessy is a gestural painter.
Gesture is linked to scale and it is as if he is completely fluent and comfortable on, say, an A2 scale, but less so on a broader canvas. But the show, overall, was very effective and well conceived.
Twosome Twiminds, Oonagh Young Gallery, 1 James Joyce Street (formerly Corporation Street), Liberty Corner, Dublin 1, until April 19, 01-8558600; Road Trip, Clare Scott, Mary Street Gallery, Unit 2, Mary Street, Waterford, ends April 5, 051-304827; Journey to Lir, Ben Hennessy, Greyfriars Municipal Art Gallery, Greyfriars Street, Waterford, ended Mar 29