A gallery guide

Caroline O’Leary takes you on a tour of Dublins’ finest art galleries

Caroline O’Leary takes you on a tour of Dublins’ finest art galleries

For returning students and Freshers alike, the commencement of the new college term is the signal for escape from home life, much social interaction, some little study and usually plenty of drinking. Many do not bother to venture from the gates of the university, shamelessly ignoring all that the Dublin cultural and arts scene has to offer, particularly the ever-growing art scene. Galleries are ideally suited for students with free admission and even free alcohol at many openings. Dublin is home to an ever-growing number and variety of galleries, with something to cater to all artistic tastes and personalities, just as long as you know where to go.

The first stop for art in Dublin is the National Gallery of Ireland, located in both the original buildings on Merrion Square West and the modern extensions that face onto Clare Street. A five minute walk from Trinity, the Gallery houses over 13,000 works ranging from paintings by artists such as Titian and Caravaggio, to sculpture, prints and objects d’art. The NGI offers something for everyone, with an enormous permanent collection and regular exhibitions, which in the last year have included showings of Jack Butler Yeats’ “circus themed” works and an amazing collection of beautiful classic and complex modern Polish works. Especially worth viewing is the famous Caravaggio painting “The Taking of Christ” and Vermeer’s “Lady writing a Letter with her Maid”. A personal favorite in this gallery is William Fredrick Burton’s beautiful and emotional “Meeting on the Turret Stairs”, which is only available to view by appointment, but which is well worth seeing if the opportunity arises.

The Hugh Lane Gallery, also known as the Dublin City Gallery, contains over 2,000 of Ireland’s most impressive modern and contemporary works. The Gallery has a rich history behind it, with founder Sir Hugh Lane originally establishing it in 1908 as Ireland’s first Municipal Gallery of Modern Art to house his own immense collection. This came in the wake of government refusal to fund a National Gallery, which prompted W.B Yeats to write his famous poem “September 1913” as a response and condemnation. Now housed in Charlemont House on Parnell Square North, the Gallery boasts works from the 1900s to the modern day, ranging from such illustrious artists as Manet, Degas, Renoir and Monet, to contemporary works such Julian Opie’s “Walking on O’Connell Street” light installations, featured on O’Connell Street for the past several months. Especially significant to this Gallery is the reconstruction of Francis Bacon’s studio, which was bequeathed to the Gallery after the artist’s death. The room contains everything from paint tubes to utensils, sticks of pastel, cans of spray paint and roller sponges, as well as pieces of corduroy trousers and cashmere jumpers used by the artist to add textures to paintings. This room offers an amazing insight into Bacon as an artist, an innovator and a character and is well worth the visit, even if only to see the amazing chaos for yourself.

A far more recent addition to the Irish art scene is the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), which only opened in 1991 but has rapidly grown to contain over 4,500 works. Located in Kilmainham (near Heuston Station), the gallery requires a little bit of travel to reach but is well worth the visit. Unlike the NGI or the Hugh Lane, IMMA features only works created after the 1940’s and, as well as modern paintings and sculpture, also features more interactive exhibits such as video installations, stained glass and large scale constructions by acclaimed artists such as Damien Hirst, Dorothy Cross and Gilbert and George. The sheer scale, complexity and original quality of the works are dazzling and stimulate the viewer to think about the diversity of modern art and how far it has evolved from simple painting and sculpture (even if you don’t always understand exactly what the artist is trying to convey). As well as the major galleries, Dublin offers a multitude of smaller and more select galleries all over the city. These galleries tend to be more specific, a little funkier and a little more fun than their larger counterparts. Gallery Number One, located on Castle Street, focuses on more diverse modern areas such as pop culture, satirical cartoons and has just wrapped up a fascinating exhibition by Patty Herst, former wife of both Beatle George Harrison and singer Eric Clapton, whose photographs featured both these spouses as well as other famous contemporises, in addition to capturing the 60s and 70s music scene in all its revolutionary glory.

In contrast, the Bad Art Gallery on Francis Street features particularly eclectic and fun, colourful works, such as the new exhibition by Lucy Doyle, whose work features vivid bright colours and intricate designs that are inspired by fairy tales such as “The Princess and the Pea” and “Bluebeard”. Just down the road from this on Francis Street is the Monster Truck Gallery, which again caters to another niche by displaying installations and conceptual constructions that vary from the beautiful to the bizarre but are always intriguing. It is even possible to enjoy art without leaving the college grounds. Trinity College’s own Douglas Hyde Gallery is located just off the arts block and features hugely varied but select works from artists as acclaimed as Martin Creed, winner of the 2001 Turner Prize. No matter what your interests, then, or how far you are willing to walk, Dublin has something to cater to all. It’s just a matter of putting the can of Bavaria down and venturing out beyond the Pav.