Tough ladies and gentle men

An ill-fated love story from ancient Greece is the subject of Michael Kane's latest exhibition at the Rubicon Gallery. For much of the artist's career, spanning some 40 years, his work has been largely figurative, expressionistic in style and marked by a unique amalgam of influences from Greek and Roman mythology, an intimacy with the architecture and nature of Dublin city, and personal admissions regarding socio-political stance and religious dogma. In keeping with these themes, the initial concept behind this series of drawings and bronze sculptures was to present a collection of images suggestive of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice: Orpheus's love for his young bride, her untimely death, descent into the Underworld, and his attempt to resurrect her. There are also references to Aristaeus's rape of Eurydice (‘The Touch', mixed media on paper) and the slaughter of Orpheus (‘Figure and Sea' and ‘At the Mercy of Women', both mixed media on paper).

Despite the core theme being that of a Greek tragedy, much of the exhibition incorporates latter-day subjects and settings, shifting the imagery into a contemporary setting. Avoiding staged narratives, his fragmented chronicle of the lovers' tale is not directly illustrative of the various texts. Rather, his abrasive line-work and markings evoke a metaphorical relationship between the story and imagery through which he unabatedly draws parallels between love and anguish.

His bronze works are somewhat of a novelty, as rarely has this medium been included in formal exhibits. Sadly, their crude execution and positioning – three are situated on the floor – detract from the power of the two-dimensional works and only act to fragment the body of work further. ‘Near the Mouth of Light' is the only exception, chiefly because it relates to the stated theme. It works because the bronze figures are independent of one another and may be separated to make their instant of severance more dramatic.

Overall, there is nothing to disappoint admirers of Kane. However, one cannot help but feel that this exhibition reveals merely the promise of a great body of work and Kane, like Orpheus, has not has not quite reached what he was striving for, rendering his objective unfulfilled.

If Kane's intense evocations of love and anguish prove a little too taxing, then Alex Katz's New York-themed exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art will provide some light relief. The show comprises of some 40 paintings and aquatints, focusing essentially on the artist's native city and fellow New Yorkers. Astonishingly, although he has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions over his 50-year career, this is the first time a European venue has proffered a thematic exhibition centred on this aspect of his oeuvre.

The show chiefly comprises portraits, ranging over many years, include those of his wife, son, and of his distinguished circle of New York friends, including poets, writers and artists, many before the backdrop of Manhattan's skyline and Modernist architecture. These large-scale portraits are by no means literal renderings. Rather, the artist sees the portrait as a vehicle to making a contemporary painting through which he unites two seemingly opposing styles: abstraction and expressionism. Canvas surfaces are smooth and unpainterly, resulting in flattened, almost cartoon-like illustrations, giving the impression that the artist had conspicuously stripped away the expected conventions of painting and the illusory immediacy of drawing to refocus the attention on the fundamentals rudiments of the technique itself. Unfortunately, the results are a collection of contemptuously formulaic portraits awash with feminised men with flawlessly sculpted features and densely inscrutable expressions. Added to the saccharine hues and alla-prima style of casual brushiness and all you are left with is a series of images which seems to be more about feminine boudoirs and highbrow taste in decoration than a collection of works by an artist dubbed as one of the most influential American painters of our time.  

Antoinette Sinclair

Curator, Oisín Gallery, 44 Westland Row, Dublin 2.


Michael Kane: Sculpture and Drawings. Rubicon Gallery, Dublin until 14 April 2007

Alex Katz: New York Irish Museum of Mordern Art, Dublin until 20 May 2007