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Gallery Weekend comes to Dublin with the greatest free show in town

Lyons and his fellow participating galleries hope Gallery Weekend will spotlight what’s on and encourage new visitors with late evening openings


“There’s a sense too of untapped potential in Ireland when it comes to contemporary art,” says Ronan Lyons of Dublin’s Molesworth Gallery. As 10 of the city’s galleries come together, Dublin Gallery Weekend seems the ideal time to discover that potential for yourself. Running a gallery is “a very particular type of madness,” continues Lyons, who set up the Molesworth in 2000.

Lyons and his fellow participating galleries hope Gallery Weekend will spotlight what’s on and encourage new visitors, with late evening openings, receptions, talks, family events, cycle tours and more. John Daly of Hillsboro Fine Art is a founder member and current chairperson of the Contemporary Art Gallery Association (CAGA), the Dublin-based group behind the showcase. As those galleries collectively represent more than 250 artists, it is a timely event. “We hope,” says Daly, “to raise greater awareness of what the visual arts has to offer.”

It is a strange conundrum that contemporary art galleries, from major publicly funded institutions to smaller spaces, continually fight to remind people of their presence. Arts writing and criticism is seen as niche in newspapers and magazines – although truth to tell, this can be the fault of highly impenetrable and clunky arts writing, but that’s another day’s work. Equally, those not already inducted into the joys of owning art can think art buying and collecting is only for the very rich.

Obviously, encouraging what Daly describes as “a greater culture of collecting” is a main impulse of CAGA and the Gallery Weekend, but it is a misapprehension to think that those in commercial galleries subject visitors to a hard sell, or any kind of sell at all. Most may say “hello” when you arrive, but then leave you to your art-viewing, a tact that is sometimes interpreted as stand-offishness. You are more likely to be prodded into a costly purchase – often a more expensive one – in a high-end boutique. “We want to make the galleries and the represented artists, more accessible and more visible, culturally, critically and publicly,” says Daly.

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Another aim of CAGA is to give the galleries a collective voice to lobby for more support, not only for funding, but also for changes in taxation and to establish a loan scheme for collectors. As CAGA member Oliver Sears says, “visual art is underfunded at government level which is at odds with some startlingly innovative policies.” Ireland can be proud of being at the forefront of initiatives as the artist’s tax exemption and the more recent Basic Income scheme; but as Sears notes, citing Belgium as an example: “the culture of investing in visual art in a serious and strategic way is almost non-existent, compared to countries of a similar economic profile”. Art economist Clare McAndrew will lead a series of talks on collecting contemporary art, curated and hosted by Sean Rainbird, former National Gallery of Ireland director, on November 11th at 2pm.

“We are in competition for collectors with auction houses and publicly-funded venues that sell art,” says Kevin Kavanagh. While it is important to note that not all artists thrive in the commercial sector, the commercial sector also cannot represent all artists, simply because of the wealth of talent out there. Kavanagh says the key is “for us to be more visible to collectors and for the general public to know about the great exhibitions that we present across the city. There have been a few false dawns, thinking of Dublin Contemporary in 2011,” he adds, mentioning the costly and to many, divisive event that was to have become a regular, but which closed after just one edition. “But with the support of the Arts Council of Ireland, IPUT and maybe a few more patrons getting on board, I would like to think it could become as good as the Gallery Weekends in London or Berlin.”

Despite being billed as inaugural, it is not actually entirely new. In 1996, the Irish Contemporary Art Gallery Association organised an open day, which featured Rubicon and Hallward, both now sadly closed. In 2015, a Gallery Weekend was launched that brought together nearly 40 galleries, including not-for-profit spaces such as Project Arts. It didn’t last the course, partly due to fatigue, but also because Fáilte Ireland, which had supported it, changed their criteria around smaller festivals. Freelance curator Rayne Booth was behind the earlier Gallery Weekend, launched when she was working with the Temple Bar Gallery, and CAGA have brought her on to co-ordinate this newer version.

“This time,” says Booth, “it is really coming from where it should be coming from, and that is the commercial galleries base.” The use of the term “commercial” may imply epic profits, but the galleries in CAGA will often take on artists early in their careers, nurture their work, host exhibitions, commission texts, network with curators, collectors and critics, and pay the rent, heat and light on their spaces: so for many that word will raise a wry smile. “They do want, and need, to make a living,” says Booth.

Even since CAGA launched, one more gallery, Hang Tough, has closed. So why do they do it? “I have collected art since I was 15,” says Daly. “When I come across an artist whom I believe in and think I might be able to offer support, I do so. This also applies to artists who may have been overlooked or seem to go out of fashion for some reason. For me, it’s important to raise their profile and let their work be seen again. I love every aspect of it,” he concludes.

With many exciting exhibitions, a packed programme and everyone welcome, it really is the greatest free show in town. This is true in the visual arts, not just on Gallery Weekend, but all year round.

What’s on for Gallery Weekend

Solomon Fine Art: Eilís O’Connell, Hardware / Software

One of Ireland’s leading sculptors, Eilís O’Connell is renowned for her large-scale public artworks. This is an opportunity to see her smaller sculptures and works on paper, where the delicacy also reveals the subtleties you can then rediscover in her more monumental pieces. From steel and bronze to resin and stone, O’Connell is adept at exploring the systems and forms that underpin both the natural world and our own impacts on it. Her watercolours are wonderful too.

Ends November 18th

Kerlin Gallery: Callum Innes, St Sebastian

A Turner Prize nominee, Scottish-born artist Callum Innes makes minimalism marvellous, with large-scale spare canvasses that let his colour blocks sing and dance. It is the kind of work you need to spend time with, to soak in and get all meditative. Those rich colours are built up through layers upon layers of paint, dissolved and reapplied, so you get intense hues that hover between luminous and opaque. Book for Sunday Social Club at Kerlin on November 12th, 12pm.

Ends November 12th

Green On Red Gallery: Scott Lyall, Scales

Dividing his time between Toronto and New York, Scott Lyall gets up close and personal with optical physics, and combines the power of computers with the infinite potential of the human hand. His Talents initially appear as a series of abstract sheens, but there’s real depth, as a mirror is overlaid with a software-generated progression of coloured pixels, then hand painted with gel and infinitesimal particles of gold. The artist describes the cropping as “a cut into the infinite.”

Book for the Guided Bike Tour of three galleries: Green on Red, Oliver Sears and Kevin Kavanagh, November 12th, 2pm. Ends November 17th

Hillsboro Fine Art: A HOLY SHOW

For many students, learning about art starts with the Renaissance, when saints and angels, virgins and martyrs ruled the roost. Of course, the story of art goes back thousands of years before that, but what do contemporary artists make of this seemingly eternal theme? This exhibition explores the idea with Irish and international artists who work with religious imagery in and out of its traditional context. Including Sandro Chia, whose work is seen too infrequently these days, alongside Cecilia Bullo, Liz Finch, John Gibbons, Patrick Graham, Marcelle Hanselaar, Gottfried Helnwein and Kevin Mooney.

Ends November 25th

SO Fine Art Editions: Richard Gorman, And Then

For many artists, printmaking presents an opportunity to explore textures, depth and a whole different way of creating. Richard Gorman takes that exploration to the next level with a range of techniques from plywood woodblock to litho stone. And while art making is often a solitary practice, he also revels in the opportunity it gives to collaborate with a print studio and their master printers. His colour-block abstract geometric shapes are influenced by many of the places he loves, including Japan, Milan, and Dublin too.

Japanese Woodblock demonstration with Kate MacDonagh and Ed Miliano, November 11th, 1pm. Ends November 25th

Olivier Cornet Gallery: David Fox, Urban Fingerprint

From gritty urbanism to slightly disquieting country scenes, David Fox makes paintings that invite you in. His second solo exhibition at the Olivier Cornet Gallery sees him turn his eye to graffiti, capturing the ephemeral tags and images that appear on walls, in alleyways and hoardings. There’s a rich lineage to this, as artists including Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat took street art into the gallery. Here, it is less a co-opting of the styles and icons; and instead a permanent record of and love letter to the streets.

Art and Food for Thought buffet and discussion with the artist, November 12th 1pm. Ends December 10th

Oliver Sears Gallery: Laurence Riddell, In Reality

Belfast-born Laurence Riddell has had a life-long fascination with horses, and who can blame him? Capturing horses in art is even older than the religious tradition and Riddell has a good pedigree, following in the footsteps of the likes of Francis Bacon and Basil Blackshaw. With In Reality, he aims to get beyond the look of a horse to reach the feel of Horse, something he describes as “the portrayal of a more accurate truth, more real than the perception of what is real.”

Ends December 8th

Taylor Galleries: John Doherty, Tempus fugit et vita brevis

If David Fox has painted a love letter to urban streets, here John Doherty is enraptured by rural life. Some of it is captured in the course of a slow decline, but more is about how places manage to hold on to the past, even while we move forward. His realistic style has an elegiac tint that never settles for trite nostalgia. Inspired by memories of childhood trips around Ireland, the artist says things became more vivid during his time living in Australia. “It wasn’t a homesickness, but a clear image of what I had left behind.”

Ends November 25th

Molesworth Gallery: Gabhann Dunne, Eight Billion Mystics

Gabhann Dunne can make a bird fly with just a brushstroke, or a wolf howl in two or three well-chosen streaks of oil on panel. The title of the show refers to the current estimation of the human population of Earth and if you think mysticism is a trait reserved for the few, the artist explains that “everyone has the potential to be a mystic,” especially if we exercise our capacity for empathy with the natural world.

Family tour of Molesworth and Kerlin Gallery, with artist Claire Halpin helping to investigate themes and meanings, November 12, 11.30am. Ends December 22th

Kevin Kavanagh: Richard Proffitt, A Crystal Split the Yolk on Paradise Lane

Not much escapes UK-born, Dublin-based Richard Proffitt: histories, memories, dreams, fiction and fact, found materials, sound recordings and paint all creep in. If part of the function of art is to make the unconscious visible, Proffitt is doing a remarkable job with work that has been described as “the things at the back of your brain manifesting into word, voice and image.” Linger with it, it’s worth the ride.

Richard Proffitt is in conversation with John O’Donoghue on November 11th at 12pm, just one of the talks taking place across all the Galleries for the Weekend, no booking required. Ends November 25th

Dublin Gallery Weekend runs November 10th to 12th. All events are free, but booking is essential for many. caga.ie/dublingalleryweekend