Critic's Guide: Dublin

Núria Güell, Bridget O’Gorman, Michael Ross and more: the best current shows in Dublin

BY Gemma Tipton in Critic's Guides | 14 FEB 16

The first weeks of 2016 saw some trepidation in Dublin’s art world. As Ireland commemorates the 100th anniversary of the failed Easter Rising that nevertheless marked the beginning of the birth of the Republic, there was a worry that there might be an onslaught of possibly terrible jingoistic shows concerned with nationalism, navel gazing and ersatz patriotism. The results, where programming did focus on the occasion, have been both a relief and a reminder that art can provide answers as well as raise important questions.

Michael Ross, Bully, 2015, plastic, 7cm x 8 cm x 4 cm. Courtesy Ellis King, Dublin

Michael Ross: ‘Selected Works 1991 – 2015’
Ellis King
29 January – 5 March

While large-scale works challenge you to meet them face to face, it’s the small ones that draw you in, their potency in inverse proportion to their size. American sculptor Michael Ross is a master of the miniature; none of his series of works at Ellis King being any more than eight centimetres across. Yet for all that, they pack a punch. The earliest work, My Favourite Green Shirt in a Hinge (1991) is just that – a fragment of fabric held in a metal hinge – but there’s something deeply satisfying about how its proportions are exactly right, and the shirt, obviously no longer functional as such, has become something else. Its parts may be from the rag-bag, but this is now a sweet object of desire. Boulle (2015) brings a touch of the Baroque, an elaborate gilded escutcheon atop a triangular piece of metal, turning what might be an homage to 18th century cabinet maker André-Charles Boulle, into something with a sniff of the occult. The exhibition is a compelling essay into the transformative power of art and the taming power of the small.

Bridget O’Gorman, Trigger Points, 2016, physiotherapy resistance bands, aluminium, ballistic gel. Photograph Neil O’Driscoll

Bridget O’Gorman: ‘In the Flesh’
29 January – 12 March

In the Flesh (Re-enacted) (2016) is an eight-minute film of a conservator’s hands as she delicately tends to a gun. Disturbingly devastating in its subtlety, the film is both a beautiful piece of work and a meditation on what we choose to preserve, and through preservation, make the basis for future narratives. O’Gorman’s response to the 1916 Rising is a look at the lives of objects that languish in the archives until an historical moment calls them forth. Folded aluminium structures implying deconstructed archival boxes are gently infested with ballistic gel and roma plastilina – the clay invented for art, but used in ballistics to simulate human flesh. They are intriguing and satisfying sculptural objects in the vein of Aleana Egan, but O’Gorman’s choice of disruptive material: a clay which is stable, but changes to the touch, make them an apt metaphor for the narratives of history at the same time.

Bird, Branch, House, 2010. Wood, polyester, acrylic, 66 x 53 cm. Courtesy of Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

Serge Charchoune / Merlin James: ‘Meeting at the Building’
Douglas Hyde Gallery
11 December – February 24

In Gallery 2 at Douglas Hyde, Merlin James’s deft suggestions in paint and wood are the artist’s accompaniment to the exhibition of neglected Franco Russian artist Serge Charchoune (1888–1975), whom he also curated in the main space. Charchoune’s work is interesting, but it is James’ three barely-there paintings (all 2015) that hold the mind. Gestures in paint, on fabric that reveals the supporting structures of the picture frame, conjure up buildings, clouds, trees. The artist’s genius way with shadows add a three-dimensionality alongside an unstable, fairytale-feel. Below two of these are long low vitrines, in which James has created whole villages of buildings from studio debris: off-cuts of stretcher bar and frame moulding. The little installation is a gem of a piece, the essence of art’s ability to create whole worlds from just a small set of gestures.

Nick Miller, Portrait of Anthony Cronin, 2015, watercolour on paper, 40 × 40 cm. Courtesy the artist

Nick Miller and the studio of Edward McGuire
Irish Museum of Modern Art
19 November – 3 April

For those unfamiliar with the gritty makings of art, the artist’s studio is a place of mystery and wonder. They may not realize the fascination that studios also hold for other artists. Following the donation of 130 items from the studio of portrait artist and still life painter Edward McGuire (1932–86) to IMMA, Nick Miller responded by creating an installation through a series of rooms that pair portraits by both artists, and highlight objects from McGuire’s collection. The results are a meditation on painting and on the meaning of time. McGuire would frequently take years to complete a portrait, while Miller prefers to complete works in days. A McGuire painting of Wanda Ryan-Smolin as a child features her holding a toy doll. Miller’s painting of her as an adult is displayed alongside, next to the doll itself, now in a vitrine. Each has become ageless: the doll devoid of its once sentimental value, the paintings now subject to the vicissitudes of taste.

Left: John Rainey, Slice Boy, 2015, Parian Porcelain, 38 × 20 × 20 cm. Right: Fiona Mulholland, Unfurl again, 2015, powder coated 6mm mild steel and 4mm brass rod. Displayed on pinwheel scaffold by A2 Architects. Courtesy Oonagh Young Gallery, Dublin

Fiona Mulholland, John Rainey and A2 Architects: ‘Less + More’
Oonagh Young Gallery
10 December – 19 February

A never-ending plinth by A2 Architects creates a four-sided M.C. Escher-like support for works by artist and jeweller Fiona Mulholland and exciting emerging sculptor John Rainey, both of whose work straddles the disciplines of art and design. At Oonagh Young’s always interesting space, Less + More oversets the expected. Why should a plinth be a white oblong? What if porcelain were gaudy à la Rainey’s Slice Boy (2015) and Untitled (Teeth) (2012), the latter a quite brilliant bright yellow protrusion ending in a row of gnashers? What happens to the separation between the art object and the viewer when it is disrupted by kinetic art you have to touch, as with Mulholland’s Unfurl again (2015), an interconnected series of metal rings and ellipses that demand physical attention? At the heart of this playful show, which is the gallery’s response to last year’s ID2015 Year of Design, is the conclusion that perhaps the disciplines of art and design are only different in the eyes of the institutions that promote and fund them.

Núria Güell, ‘Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy’, Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Núria Güell: ‘Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy’
Project Arts Centre
15 January – 19 March

Project Art Centre’s programming for the Centenary of the 1916 Rising kicks off with Núria Güell turning the gallery into a laboratory for a different kind of rebellion. It is unlikely that the new republic envisaged by the Signatories of the Proclamation of Independence would have included the Celtic Tiger boom and subsequent economic collapse – a fate shared by the artist’s native Spain. Güell’s solution to the resulting, increasing divide between rich and poor is an agency to enable ‘ordinary’ people to avail themselves of tax liability, borrowing from the tactics of corporate tax avoidance systems. Presented alongside films (including Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy and Ruaridh Arrow’s How to Start a Revolution, both 2011), Güell shows examples of social activism which, seen through the prism of art, encourage a rethinking of the self in relation to certain agreed social rules. The Boston Tea Party in 1773 proved that individuals can foment change through disobedience; while in Wales today, Crickhowell: The Fair Tax Town, shows how if enough small traders come together, inequitable systems protecting multinationals may have to be reimagined.

Mick O’Dea, Imperial City, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Kevin Kavanagh Gallery; photograph Emile Deneen

Mick O’Dea: ‘The Foggy Dew’
Royal Hibernian Academy
15 January – 21 February

The culmination of O’Dea’s series of exhibitions that marks him as the semi-official artist of the anniversary of the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) includes four monumental canvases, in the artist’s signature shades of tan and taupe. These form an architectural backdrop of burning or besieged buildings: the physical epicentre of the 1916 Easter Rising. Elsewhere, 18 smaller portraits depict the people behind the failed project that would nevertheless inform the identity of the new Republic, founded six years later. Portraiture could make it personal, but they remain distant figures, perhaps even judgemental of the Ireland that has evolved. The energy in the exhibition comes from O’Dea’s cardboard sculptures, a return to a practice last explored by the artist 20 years ago. Britannia and Daniel O’Connell face off across the space, the pomp of statuary belied by the medium. Surrounding them, suspended in air, cardboard figures scattered by violence call to mind F. E. McWilliam’s ‘Women of Belfast’ series (1971) – a distillation of trauma frozen in art.

Gemma Tipton is a writer and critic based in Ireland.