Nude male sculpture drove developer up the wall


One of Ireland’s best-known examples of figurative sculpture had to undergo a “sex-change” because former billionaire developer Johnny Ronan objected to a “naked man climbing up the wall” outside his office window.

It has emerged that the 12ft high sculpture of a naked woman climbing the wall of the Treasury Building on Dublin’s Grand Canal Street was originally intended to be a man. But Mr Ronan of Treasury Holdings, the company that built the office block, was appalled and, according to the artist “said there was no way he wanted a naked man climbing up the wall to his window”. The sculptor, Rowan Gillespie then “changed it to a woman” and Mr Ronan was “delighted” because his personal office window overlooked the sculpture.

The block was built in 1995 on the site of Boland’s Mills – a key location during the 1916 Rising – and Treasury Holdings intended the sculpture, officially titled “Aspiration” as a piece “commemorating the struggle for freedom” with the climbing figure as “a metaphor for Ireland”. The building was used by Fianna Fáil as a headquarters for the party’s general election campaign in 2007. It now houses Nama.

Johnny Ronan, and his Treasury Holdings co-founder Richard Barrett, were among the State’s most high-profile and richest developers during the Celtic Tiger era. Their development projects included five-star hotels – the Westin Hotel in Dublin and Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow – and the convention centre in Dublin’s docklands. But earlier this year, Treasury Holdings collapsed into liquidation – with debts of €2.7 billion.

An original maquette model of the sculpture, comprising a polished granite slab with bronze models of the original male figure and the subsequent female version, went under the hammer at Whyte’s art auction in Dublin last night but stalled at €9,500 and failed to sell.