Will Dublin Contemporary draw in the punters?


The ambitious programme, announced today, has few big names but this major exhibition will hope the public buys into its policy of ‘non-compliance’

DUBLIN CONTEMPORARY 2011, Ireland’s international exhibition of contemporary art, today announces its programme and names more than 90 participating artists. The hub of the event, with the overall title Terrible Beauty – Art, Crisis, Change & the Office of Non-Compliance, will be in UCD’s former home at Earlsfort Terrace, beside the National Concert Hall, though galleries and public spaces around the city will also be used. It will run from September 6th until October 31st.

A first glance at the list of participating artists suggests that the two lead curators, Christian Viveros-Fauné and Jota Castro, have mostly steered clear of really big international names. Not to say they’ve gone for obscure artists: apart from a number of younger, emerging figures, the majority of those they’ve invited have considerable track records and reputations. But they are just not names that will in themselves draw a general audience.

Perhaps that’s not surprising given that both Viveros-Fauné and Castro have remarked that they didn’t want to make a typical art world biennial, and given that, for example, one of the artist they’ve included is William Powhida, a US ex-art-critic who makes fiercely satirical work about the mainstream contemporary art world. As often happens, the mainstream art world has taken him to its bosom.

What the curators’ choice does set out to do is to articulate a range of cultural and political perspectives including, but also apart from, the US-Western European axis. So there is a great deal of work that is not merely by artists of a particular nationality, but that specifically engages with the circumstances of being, say, Chinese, or Moroccan, or Cuban, or Mexican, or South American, or from the Middle East, in the flux of the current international context.

While their names may not trip off the tongue, many of the artists work in ways that actively involve the viewer. The US collective, The Bruce High Quality Foundation, usually sparks lively, pointed interactions. Serbian Braco Dimitrijevic makes work that impels us to look at our own relationship with broader historical issues. Mark S Gubb creates conversational pieces on social spaces and pop culture. Nina Berman’s photographic series, Marine Wedding, is a compassionate, sobering insight into the reality of warfare, chronicling the experiences of a US marine sergeant badly wounded by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

Tania Bruguere has proved to be controver- sial with performances pieces that – separately – encouraged criticism of the Cuban author- ities and involved the use of cocaine – she also sought to employ a live firearm in one show but was, unsurprisingly, refused. Danish art group Superflex devise direct social interact- ions that entail specific actions or commit- ments from the public. Teresa Margolles makes powerful works about the systematic murder of young women in north Mexico.

In terms of spectacle, there should be plenty to look at with, for example, Maarten van den Eynde’s Plastic Reef project, an ever-growing accumulation of waste plastic packaging that has proved to be thought-provoking. There should be spectacle, as well, in David Zink Yi’s (his heritage is Peruvian, German, Chinese) giant sculpture of a squid, made from ceramic and incorporating glazed plates, referencing food as a signifier of cultural identity.

We are promised a “titanic sculpture” by one of the best known names in the line-up, Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn. He is renowned for making big, rowdy, ramshackle installations mixing elements of pop and consumer culture with references to thinkers and writers, often with an agitprop element and real local relevance. There will also be an installation by veteran Greek sculptor Jannis Kounellis, another artist who thinks big, and is renowned for his association with the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.

One major highlight will undoubtedly be a show of US painter Alice Neel’s informal portraits at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. Neel, who died in 1984, was under-appreciated for much of her working life, until the advent of the women’s movement prompted a reassess- ment of contemporary women artists. Her edgy, incisive portraits are infused with nervous vitality and often underscored with palpable anxiety.

Ominously, though, it has to be said that many of the featured artists habitually make elaborate, idiosyncratic installations with exhaustive theoretical rationales, the kind of work that is generally beloved by curators of international group exhibitions but may not find a corner in the heart of the casual viewer. The mix is leavened by the occasional painter, including Manuel Ocampo, Kysa Johnson, Lisa Yuskavage and Anna Bjerger.

Irish representation is generous by any standard, mingling established figures with much younger artists who get a chance to make their mark. James Coleman will create a new work for Earlsfort Terrace, there will be a Willie Doherty retrospective at The Hugh Lane Gallery and Brian O’Doherty (previously Patrick Ireland) will make a new work at the National Gallery of Ireland. Younger, established artists such as Niamh O’Malley, Corban Walker, Eamon O’Kane, David Godbold, Katie Holten, Nevan Lahart, Brian Duggan, Mairead O’hEocha, Brian Maguire and Connolly Cleary also feature. From there leap to graffiti artist Maser and emerging artists Wendy Judge, Conor Harrington, Ella Burke, Ciara Scanlan, Stefana McClure and Siobhan McGibbon.

Right in the heart of the Earlsfort Terrace is the Office of Non-Compliance, a centre for discussion, debate, seminars and talks. It will be open for business throughout Dublin Contemporary 2011, along with reading rooms and other ancillary facilities. Viveros-Fauné and Castro are structuring their exhibition so that it can involve its audience in detailed, direct engagement, not alone with the art but also with the artists and the issues.

At the same time, going by the make-up of today’s programme, they have their work cut out for them. The crux is going to be how they go about sparking the initial curiosity of their potential audience, in the absence of names that are in themselves a sure-fire draw.

Three to look forward to

Alice Neel, Portraits

Douglas Hyde Gallery

Alice Neel (1900-1984) is now recognised as one of the great American realist painters of the 20th century, and her incisive, compassion- ate but utterly unsentimental portraits are at the core of her achievement (such as Richard at Age 5, above, 1945, copyright Estate of Alice Neel).

The revival of interest in her work from the late 1960s coincided with the rise of the women’s movement. Her paintings hinge on her direct, observational drawing and her remarkable empathy with her sitters.

Lisa Yuskavage, Paintings

Royal Hibernian Academy

US artist Lisa Yuskavage’s sickly sweet, unsettling paintings of paradoxically fetishised femininity have attracted acclaim and controversy, and it will be interesting to see what reaction they get. They engage with issues relating to the representation of women but, as one commentator put it, are they part of the solution or part of the problem? In fact, Yuskavage is clearly aligned with a distinct strand of American painting that’s been described as goofy realism.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Sculpture

Earlsfort Terrace

You never know what Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn is going to do, but you can be fairly sure that it will be big, involve myriad references to pop and consumer culture as well as political and social theory, and be disarmingly accessible. Usually a high level of interaction is part of the deal.

Dublin Contemporary 2011 runs from September 6 to October 31. See dublincontemporary.com