Serving up an Italian architectural confection on a plate

Asked to create art works around the 18th-century Casino in Marino, artists came up with a delicious project, ‘Meditation on Plates’

The Casino at Marino is a gorgeous puzzle box of a place. Like Doctor Who’s Tardis, it seems much bigger on the inside than out, and it includes all manner of architectural tricks, symbols and trompe l’oeil illusions. Built in the 1750s, it’s one of those places that intrigues and yet rather resists attempts to get to know it better. Perhaps that’s no wonder: we’re far removed from the life and times of the likes of its former owner, the first earl of Charlemont, who commissioned it as a folly-cum-pleasure palace; so it can be difficult to imagine it with all the life and colour of its Regency heydays.

But this unique jewel was made to be enjoyed, and Mary Heffernan at the OPW is determined to find ways to get more people into and excited about the Casino. Last year, Anne Cleary and Denis Connolly's Absent Architect used videos to layer the building's past and present into a haunting whole, and this year, Heffernan has teamed up with Irish designer and artist Nuala Goodman. The pair had the brilliant idea of inviting 38 architects, artists and designers to make work inspired by the Casino, and the even more brilliant idea of transferring their designs on to porcelain plates.

Goodman, who studied art at Dublin’s NCAD, left Ireland more than 20 years ago, to live and work in Italy. It was a three-month experiment that stuck, and since then she has worked with famous and influential designers including Moroso and Alessi. Refusing to be pigeonholed, she also continued to make art, and her paintings and designs were shown in 2010 in the Fortuny Museum in Venice.

Happily leaping over boundaries in this way has made for an interesting and eclectic selection of ceramic circles, hanging on the walls of the ground-floor salons of the Casino. There's work by Irish artists Dorothy Cross, Margaret Corcoran, Fergus Martin, Richard Gorman and Eithne Jordan. And Irish designers Paul Costelloe and Arthur Duff hang edge to edge with Italians Fornasetti, Alessandro Mendini and Alesandro Guerriero.


Platinum droplets “I have lived for years in Italy, but I’m from here, so I wanted to bring the two together,” says Goodman, whose own design shows the Casino linked across the sea to the Villa Rotonda in Vicenza by a series of platinum droplets. “Everyone has responded differently – Italian design can be all about the new, so it was good to see what they came up with.”

The images range from the abstract – Fergus Martin's square sweep of green tea, which emerges as a gold block on the plate, and Fulvia Mendini's mandala, inspired by the neoclassical decorations and symbols – to the wild and wonderful: Margaret Corcoran's fairytale palace, and Dorothy Cross's Regency-style heads, over which crabs scuttle and play. The Casino features as a motif in many: Fornasetti incorporates its image alongside his highly recognisable sun and moon symbols, Stephen McKenna lays out its floorplan, while Victor Togliani gives it a sci-fi spin.

In Eithne Jordan's plate, the artist updates a 1773 painting of the Casino, by Thomas Roberts, which shows the building with a distant view of Dublin Bay and the Sugarloaf mountain in the background. In Jordan's vision, the view now incorporates the Poolbeg Towers. It's a lovely comment on how old and new sit together, sometimes politely, sometimes in fractious argument.

It's also fun to see how artists' styles and ways of working come to the fore, so you can wander round, seeing if you can spot who is who, without referring to the handy "instruction" guide, available at the front desk. Richard Gorman, David Godbold and John Kindness show work that is unmistakeably their own. So how did Goodman get such an astonishing array of talented artists and designers to say yes to this quirky and intriguing project?

"I asked them," she says simply, explaining that the choices were intuitive. Some were in NCAD with her: Eithne Jordan and Kathy Prendergast were tutors, and Fergus Martin "was the first person I met in Milan, I stayed with him for a while". Others were people whose work she admired. "I just met Dorothy Cross for the first time yesterday [at the launch], but we knew that we have many friends in common. She's so talented and down-to-earth. I loved her."

Limited edition The plates have been made in a limited edition of just 16 each, with a full set going to the OPW. “The Casino doesn’t have a collection,” says Heffernan, “It was broken up in the past, so we’re using it like a pavilion for exhibitions.” The rest are for sale, at €150 each (€200 for the Fornasetti design). Some designs are already sold out, though Goodman says there may be plans to create new, different editions.

This shows one of the interesting divisions between the worlds of art, design and craft, and is the reason why the decision to translate the work on to porcelain was such a brilliant one: the scale of values are so different. A work by Dorothy Cross for just €150? Unthinkable. On the other hand, a plate costing €150? Exorbitant. It all depends on whether you see the works in the sphere of art or design. Something to eat off or hang on your wall? Either way, they’re absolutely delicious.

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