Art review: Even Jesus Christ is in ROSC

  • 2 October 1977
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A ROSC "assemblage" entitled The Office, by the Polish artist, Wladyslaw Hasior, includes in it the broken image of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is skewered to the backside of a Polish cooking utennsil, there is a wire noose around his neck, and his feet have been broken off. From the top of his head stands up a tuft of synthetic hair, and he seems to be preesiding over a brass tap, out of which pours a stream of groszy, the coins with which Polish people buy Polish goods. There are eighte'~rt coins, in various denominations of ten, twenty and fifty groszy, and they have been glued down on an indifferently painted blue board which forms the base of the picture or "assemblage ". By Bruce Arnold

The Office is a not untypical example of the 140 works which make up the Rose exhibition at the Municipal Gallery in Parnell Square. It is an "assemblage ", or wall sculpture, rather than a painting; but in this it is not unusual.

"Assemmblage" work is presently in vogue with international art promoters, and there is a good deal.of it in Rose.

It is virtually impossible to subject it to any form of criticism, and this is another perfectly normal situation with

modern international art. Mr. Wladyslaw Hasior is interchangeable with literally hundreds of other "assemblage" makers around the world. The brief write-up in the catalogue tells us that "he paints and makes banners as well as sculpting in a very wide variety of materials and creating assemblages." And, of course, he has exhibited everywhere. I wouldn't be surprised, personally, if he also ran a balalaika band, had a sideline in cooking utensils for the Polish Army, and had internal control over the distribution of religious images (chipped). What I do mind is that the information about him really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to me, nor to the Rose organisers.

Even Mr. Hasior doesn't matter. If he had not been available for this Rose, someone else would. And his replaceement would have been more or less interchangeable, as indeed many of the present participators are interchangeable with each other. They and Mr. Hasior are no doubt serious and interesting people. And they have something to say. Where they say it, and to whom, is not important to me, and it seems not to be important to them, since very few of them have come to Dublin to see the place or the, people for whos~ benefit this expensive exhibition has been mounted. But without doubt they will chalk up on their curricula vitae their presence at Rosc 77 in Dublin, another scalp on their belt, so to speak.

The criteria by which they have been chosen is suspect. It seems that the artist must be "well known", "widely exxhibited", and diverse iri technique. The phrase "well known" is a nonsense phrase, which any good sub-editor on any newspaper strikes out whenever he sees it. Yet it runs like a ribbon through the Rose catalogue.!f an artist is "well known", why do we have to be told? Yes, you've guessed it; the reason we have to be told is that we are stupid. Mr. Hasior, like most of the others, is only "well known" to a special elite. Bu t don't worry; after Rosc 77, you too will be part of the message. .

There is little more that can be said about the exhibits as such. There is some particularly good work by English artists, Tim Scott and Kenneth Martin being good exponents of a straighttforward form of abstract sculpture and painting. If anything, sculpture generally comes off best. The assemblages are diverting. But there is generally too little paint about. The experimentation is thin. The imagination is on holiday. Technique, confined within very narrow passageways, flexes emaciated muscles. And behind the technique grey cells from all around the world pulse away, fed on a thin diet of international art magazine wisdom, ambitious for recognition, eager to get on the world gravy train which puffs endlessly from the Venice Biennale to' Paris, to New York to Turin, to Kassel, to Tokyo, and finally to Dublin.

At this point let us get down to the serious criticism. Rose is not about art, but about politics. The artists do not matter. There is an endless supply of them, and it is a bonus for some hidden talent somewhere if one or more of them is remembered. Rose is about the promotion of Rose. It is an exercise in power without responsibility.

The art side 'of it is comfortably separated from the rest by the device of choosing jurors from abroad who then choose artists from abroad. That rule was quite emphatic in 1967 and 1971, when Irish artists were excluded; but it changed this time, and two filtered through, one of them, James Coleman, not altogether bad. There is a third, Joseph Beuys, but he's only Irish at times.

This approach means that Mr. Michael Scott, the moving spirit of Rose, can devote his whole' attention to promoting Rose itself, and not be bothered with the art. For Rose is a thing in itself.

It is an entirely safe exercise. Nothing has to be sold. The bill is settled by the Arts Council, Bord Failte, and various other groups. The art itself goes away again. But a general impression is left of something having happened.

Something has happened. There has been a massive rip-off. £60,000 has gone down the drain in a piece of dubious theatre, and no one is really much better off as a result. The reputation of the executive committee as organisers ¸quite what of is open to question - has gone up. But Irish artists have been left precisely where they were. The Municipal Gallery has had its general atmosphere of sloth marginally disturbed. A very large number of extremely important people, through vanity or ignorance or both, have been duped into allowing their names to go on the Committee of Honour. And the turgid and ridiculous exercise of Rose, now in its eleventh year, has been given a new surge of life.

It is, I understand, to become a permanent committee, with Michael Scott as' its chairman. It will operate somewhere between the Arts Council and the Cultural Relations Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It will have control over all incoming exhibitions, and will· manage their budgets and their promotions.· It will thereby cream off the lion's share of the financial resources in the State for art, and the sufferer will once again be the poor bloody Irish artist.

At present the country's only modern art gallery, the Municipal Gallery in Parnell Square, has no budget at all for mounting exhibitions, and nobody on its staff capable of mounting them. It has no programme of exhibitions, either

of foreign work or of Irish art. Virtually everything that happens within the Municipal Gallery has' to be initiated outside it, and this makes it eminently available for exercises such as Rosc.'

'Virtually any organisation with a resspectable committee and an acceptable exhibition can get hold of Municipal Gallery space. In Ireland, being "respecttable" and "acceptable" has a special meaning. But one of "the interpretations of that has led, this summer, to the wasteful expenditure, at one fell swoop, of sufficient money to run a programme of interesting and stimulating exhibitions of Irish art in the Municipal Gallery in Parnell Square lasting for about two years.

In another month Mr. Hasior will take his footless Jesus Christ somewhere else to be acclaimed. Mr. Michael Scott and the members of his committee will all congratulate themselves on a "succcess". Irish artists will once again decide that they must leave Ireland. The Muniicipal Gallery will once again have to attend to its own business instead of having everything done for it.

Do not be put off from going to see Rose. When you have finished go on through into the end two rooms. You will find there a most lovely little still life painting by Fantin Latour; and on the other side from it a stunning canvas by Monet, a snow scene. That's what art's about; and they did it without promotion.



David Hendricks Gallery, St. Stephen's Green Robert B~llagh's' much-talked-about exhibition has ended here, and there is a kind of "interim" group show of artists who exhibit regularly at the gallery. Ballagh is present himmself with a stunning tour-de-force of brash realism, "No 3". Colin Middleton, Barrie Cooke, Thea McNab, T.P. Flanagan arearnonq the artists represented. As an exhibition, rather in the nature of a filler-in" Dawson Gallery, Dawson St.

Although the death of Leo Smith has left a void in the Dublin art world, this gallery'conntinues his policy and, apparently, his artists. Patrick Scott is the present exh ibitor, with drawings, paintings and large screens. Once the leader of the Irish avant-qaroe. Scott is now rather cosily Establishment, but his composition flair. and elegance of style remain intact. The paintings employ' the barred areas of gold leaf which have become one of his trade marks.

Caldwell Gallery Fitzwilliam St.

Two people share this, Charles Brady and Rosaleen Davey. Brady, a regular exhibitor in Dublin though American by birth and training, shows rather small intimate paintings in which single objects are caressed by light. Nicely painted, though the colour is a little pale at times. Rosaleen Davey's drawings are cool and at first sight clinical, but in fact have a kind of "magical" aura when studied.

Oliver Dowling Gallery Kildare St.

This gallery has put the emphasis so far on a rather chic modernism, with heavy stress on imported artists, mostly unknown in Dublin. For a change, the present exhibitor, Michael Coleman, is a Dubliner. His works are charcoal drawings, and the show is rather a small one. Nicely done and presented with flair, but the material seems on the thin side.

Project Arts Centre, Essex St.

Remember the Oasis show of sculpture in St. Anne's Park, Raheny, which local vandals got at and badly damaged? You can study the "documentation" - that is what it's called Èof this brave but abortive effort here, through models, photographs, statements, etc. Oasis stands for "open air show of Irish sculpture." There are some imaginative creations, insofar as models can be judged, especially the Unicorn of Michael O'Sullivan.

Image Gallery Upper Leeson St.

Batiks by Jeff Robinson. The batik craze originated about ten or a dozen years ago, mostly under the impact of imported works from the Far East. It involves dyeing fabrics through a long and complicated process, using wax. As far as Dublin sees, the result has too often been either gaudy or dull, but these are among the most successful.

Emmet Gallery Exchange St.

Walter Cole has followed a sort of dual policy, combining one-man exhibitions with group shows on another floor. This is his first show after a long summer recess. It consists of graphic works by James McCreary, in a range of media. Some are impressive, but the exxhibition as a whole rather lacks personality. Lad Lane Gallery Lad Lane (off Baggot Street). The English artist, writer, broadcaster Michael Avrton, who died recently, had a large and elaborately mounted show ~ere shortly before his death two years ago. The gallery has followed this with a memorial exhibition, which includes sculptures and engravings. Most of the engravings illustrate literary texts and themes, and those to a select edition of Verlaine are definitely Naughty.