For art's sake


THE DISCLOSURE in this newspaper today that the Museum of Modern Art is in the midst of a storage crisis is probably no major surprise to those who have always held serious reservations about the adequacy of the Royal Hospital as a building in which to house a major collection of contemporary art that would grow with time and the generosity of donors.

What is shocking is that the problem has been allowed to go on for so long. The museum has had to resort to quite primitive measures - the use of shipping containers in the grounds has a Third World touch to it. And the report indicating damage to 20 artworks as a "direct result of inappropriate environmental conditions in storage facilities" is utterly deplorable.

The documents released to The Irish Timesunder the Freedom of Information Act make for a terrible indictment of attitudes to the value of our recent cultural heritage. Taxpayers' money has been spent in building up the collection and donors - like Gordon Lambert - have been generous in sharing their own collections. That this comes in the wake of the recent disclosure of equally inadequate storage conditions for the national archives must raise questions about the role of the OPW and its responsibilities in this area of cultural custodianship.

There can be no doubt that those in charge of running Imma, its director Enrique Juncosa and its head of collections, Catherine Marshall who drew up the damning storage report, have been active in trying to address the problem. Their efforts to bring the matter to the attention of those in a position to do something about it can only be faulted for its behind-closed-doors approach. Like the national archives, this should be an issue of public concern and those who knew of the problem would have done better, even if it was not politically expedient, to have been more public in raising the alarm. How Imma's major donors - and those who might potentially wish to give work - might feel about this saga of neglect can only be imagined.

Storage - or lack of it - is not the only space problem in Imma. Works of art need to be seen, and the capacity and restrictive nature of the Royal Hospital was always going to become a problem. Imma needs new exhibition space and much of the work that goes unseen for far too long deserves to be displayed. Whether on, or off, site hardly matters. Perhaps it is time to revisit Stack A in the docklands, or even more imaginatively the Custom House, as an ancillary museum to the main gallery in Kilmainham.