The shining stars who burned out too soon


VISUAL ART:A NUMBER OF ARTISTS who died fairly recently and prematurely but whose influence is still very much alive are featured in Now's the Timeat the Hugh Lane Gallery.

It's an interesting idea for a show, because there is, sadly, no shortage of potential participants. The reasons for early demise vary, but the usual suspects, including drugs and drink, certainly feature, though not as prominently as cruel illnesses and misadventure - the gifted Helen Chadwick, for example, was killed by heart failure induced by a rare virus. But there was much speculation that her infection with the virus may have been related to the micro-organisms she was using in her work.

Chadwick remains a highly significant artist, not least for the way she pioneered the idea of the body as the site of art rather than something to be depicted. Jean-Michel Basquiat, the graffiti artist turned art world superstar, and protégé of Andy Warhol, succumbed to his insatiable appetite for a mixture of heroin and cocaine. A victim of his own success and prone to depression, he was still in his 20s when he died in 1988.

To an extent it's a show about young talents flaring brilliantly and dying quickly, but some of the work, including Basquiat's, suggests that he had already burnt out. His two paintings appear is if they're running on empty, imitating the energy and inventiveness that he'd once tapped into naturally. They are like sad relics, already tired and fading. An oil stick drawing, mapping out myriad random interconnections between words and things, gives an indication of what he had to offer and why he is still highly regarded despite being massively over-hyped.

Martin Kippenberger built up his considerable artistic following - he's a kind of secular patron saint of art students - on the basis of being a tirelessly and perhaps tiresomely truculent, cussed thorn in the side of convention and orthodoxy. A latter day Dadaist trickster, he led an increasingly peripatetic existence and made a habit of drawing on the stationery of the numerous hotels he stayed in. A number of these drawings make up his contribution to the exhibition. They are oddly prosaic, featuring jottings and random observations, and not at all as spiky or provocative as one might expect.

Friend of Madonna and many other pop music luminaries, Keith Haring was a star of the vibrant street art and club culture scene in New York in the 1980s, a decade that seems to have been a non-stop party and throughout which Haring was amazingly prolific. His ultra simple, idiogrammatic style, with his trademark "radiant baby" and other, similar motifs, is instantly recognisable, universally accessible and upbeat in a trance-dance way, and made him a huge popular success among a wide audience. Tragically, he was in his early 30s when he died from an Aids-related illness in 1990. Aids also claimed Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose installations link the individual to collective identities, and whose importance has grown since his death in 1996. The sculptor Eva Hesse, who died from a brain tumour in 1970, was only belatedly recognised as a pivotal figure in subverting and humanising the forms of minimalist sculpture.

Gordon Matta-Clark was an artist of major importance who was only in his mid-30s when he died from pancreatic cancer in 1978. Having trained as an architect, he became a pivotal figure in the New York avant garde movement from the late 1960s until his death. He is best known for setting about buildings with chainsaws and concrete saws, either cutting them into pieces or opening them out in striking, not to mention dizzying ways. One such project is documented in this exhibition, but he was also active in other, situationist contexts. Most famously, he and his partner Carol Gooden ran a restaurant called simply Food in Soho.

Michel Majerus died in his 30s, in a plane crash. His energetic works mingled traditional painting techniques with various kinds of digital and iconic imagery. He had seriously applied himself to the problem of how to be a visual artist in an image-saturated culture.

Rather than opting for an alternative, perhaps nostalgic view of reality, his work embodied an effort to deal with multiple kinds and levels of imagery. His sardonic comment on the superficiality of the art world, stenciled onto one of the panels of his painting in the show, is indicative of his wary, critical sensibility. It recalls a remark by Jason Rhoades, a creator of frenetically busy, crowded installations (who suffered a fatal heart attack when barely into his 40s), that you had to be mediocre to succeed in the art world.

The fate of Bas Jan Ader remains a mystery and has attracted all manner of outlandish theories. Ader, now a cult figure, produced a remarkable body of work, tragic-comic in tone, often concerned with ephemerality. In 1975, in his early 30s, as part of an art project, he set off on a single-handed west-to-east transatlantic crossing.

Although his boat was recovered off the Irish coast, he had disappeared. Despite its morbid premise, Now's the Timeis not a morbid exhibition, but neither is it as lively as it should be. It is too sparse and lacks highlights - particularly one show-stopping piece, such as a high-octane Jason Rhoades installation.

MARGARET O'BRIEN'S installations usually strike a taut balance between the initial impression of an overall, enveloping environment and the dawning awareness of details that are in some way or other unsettling. In The Long Goodbye, the walls of a living room turned out to be composed of stacks of precariously balanced teacups. The combination of the comfortably domestic and the downright strange is typical.

O'Brien's most recent installation, I live in the cracks in the wallsat Pallas Contemporary Projects, featured an uncomfortably compressed living room, its wallpaper featuring a delicately embossed floral motif. But the intricate pattern was selectively studded with veritable forests of dressmaking pins.

Was the chaotic natural world, thought to be tamed and domesticated, breaking through? It did feel that way, though on the other hand the unthinkable labour involved in arranging the endless arrays of pins also suggested an obsessive impulse towards control. It was a powerfully atmospheric piece that served to confirm that O'Brien's installations have something of the disturbing intensity and magic of fairytales.

• Now's the Time, artists whose lives were cut short but whose influence lives on, Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane, Charlemont House, Parnell Sq North, until Feb 8; I live in the cracks in the walls, site-specific installation by Margaret O'Brien, Pallas Contemporary Projects, 111 Grangegorman Road Lower, until Nov 15.