Ireland prepares expert team for Venice Biennale


The team behind the Irish pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale will be led by New York-based Emily-Jane Kirwan and includes sculptor Corban Walker and director of Lismore Castle Arts Eamon
Maxwell, writes AIDAN DUNNE

EMILY-JANE KIRWAN, a director of The Pace Gallery in New York, has been appointed Irish commissioner for next year’s Venice Biennale. She has nominated sculptor Corban Walker as Ireland’s representative and the director of Lismore Castle Arts, Eamonn Maxwell, as the curator.

Walker, whose parents were the architect Robin Walker and the art critic Dorothy Walker, has been based in New York since 2005 and has been represented by The Pace Gallery since then.

He has built a substantial reputation for his sculptures and site-specific installations, often relating to architectural scale and spatial perception, and utilising such industrial and construction materials as steel, aluminium and glass.

Kirwan studied art history at Trinity and arts administration at UCD. Subsequently she was arts officer for South Dublin County Council, which was when she first worked with Walker. She moved to New York in 2001. Speaking from there, she said that she was delighted at the appointment.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with Corban. I feel he excels when he creates work that responds to a particular architectural space, so Venice should be very exciting.”

She mentioned his recent installation in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, as part of The Golden Fleece series of exhibitions, as being especially striking. The Pace Gallery is long-established as a centre of contemporary arts. For 17 years, until April this year, it was in partnership with classical specialists Wildensteins as PaceWildenstein. Its president is Marc Glimcher, son of Arne Glimcher who originally established Pace in Boston in 1963, and is an art dealer of great renown – and also a filmmaker. A straight-talker, he went on record in 2006 to say that the art auction market was over-heated and that: “People who are buying art at the top of the market as an investment are foolish.”

The gallery’s stable of artists, and artists’ estates, is second to none. “Pace has been associated with artists like Robert Irwin and Donald Judd,” Kirwan says, “and their aesthetic has informed the direction of Corban’s work.” Kirwan and her team were selected from a shortlist of four.

Culture Ireland which, in partnership with the Arts Council, manages Ireland’s representation, do not publicise the shortlist, though in a statement it noted the high level of interest and the exceptional quality of the artists nominated. Given some of the names that have been in unofficial circulation as likely contenders, that’s no exaggeration.

In fact, it’s a measure of how the visual arts have matured in Ireland that you could easily list ten or 12 artists and be sure that any would be well qualified to put on a good show at Venice. There may be some criticism of the fact that a commissioner and an artist not based in Ireland were chosen. Though presumably the fact that the team bring something of the formidable clout and resources of Pace to Venice on Ireland’s behalf was not overlooked.

There are some headaches in prospect. For the last two Biennales, Ireland has benefited from sharing a venue with Northern Ireland, the auspiciously situated Instituto Santa Maria della Pieta.

Ominously, within the last few days, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has issued a glum statement: “In the current financial climate, the Arts Council regrets that it is not in a position to commit the funds necessary to support the six-month representation at the 2011 Venice Biennale of Visual Art.”

Next year’s fair, the 54th, takes place from June to November.

The Venice Biennale

EVEN THOUGH art fairs have mushroomed in the recent past, the Venice Biennale, which was inaugurated in 1895, retains its status as the most prestigious contemporary arts event in the world.

Why? Partly because, as the estate agents’ mantra has it: location, location, location. Venice is a difficult venue for a major international exhibition, but surely the most beautiful one imaginable. The exhibition consists of works selected by an overall director, and national representatives chosen by the participating countries.

Swiss curator Bice Curiger is the director of next year’s event. Many countries have permanent pavilions in the Giardini, the park to the east of the city that is one of the main exhibition venues. The other main venue is the nearby Arsenale, the city’s huge arsenal and ship-building complex. Ireland doesn’t have a permanent pavilion, which means that a temporary location has to be secured for the duration of the exhibition.