Running until February 22 at the Eponymous gallery, Olivier Cornet’s recent exhibition entitled 2012–2022, a decade of exhibitions at the Olivier Cornet Gallery — although a self-effacing celebration of his gallery’s success — triumphantly platformed the individual and collective achievements of his represented artists. This bifold celebration comes as no surprise to those who are acquainted with Olivier and his gallery and is indicative of the collaborative and inclusive approach he scrupulously adheres to. Despite changing addresses, having migrated from the Wooden Building in Temple Bar to 5 Cavendish Row and again to his current address on Denmark Street Great, Olivier’s commitment to facilitating Irish artistic talent has not once waived. Allusions to his affiliation with poets, principally the Fighting Words organisation, and musicians, were subtly scattered throughout the exhibition space, acting as a testament to the gallery’s interdisciplinary cooperation. Principles of collaboration were central to the exhibition’s curator, with interns Lisa Brero and Mary Rose Porter and volunteers Genevieve Rust and Natalie Sikora helping to actualise Olivier’s vision.
Accompanying the exhibition was an extensive catalogue of writing, still available to leaf through online, which illuminates details from the artists’ lives that are all too often overlooked. It is evident that the gallery values the artists personally as well as professionally. The exhibition’s dedication to Rosemarie and Seán Mulcahy particularly epitomises the close-knittedness of their relationships.
“The twenty-something pieces boasted by the exhibition offered a microcosmic insight into Ireland’s contemporary art scene.”
In a 2016 edition of the Irish Arts Review, following the gallery’s second relocation, Gerry Walker wrote that “joining this constellation at No. 3 Great Denmark Street is the Olivier Cornet Gallery” — and the recent anniversary show seems to have cemented the gallery as one of the brightest stars in Dublin’s Northside sky. With artists hailing from all corners of the country, practising a myriad of mediums from bronze work to oil painting, the twenty-something pieces boasted by the exhibition offered a microcosmic insight into Ireland’s contemporary art scene. Despite being spoiled for choice, I gravitated towards a few in particular.
Thinking beyond the bag by Hugh Cummins encouraged audiences to ruminate on their dependence on disposable plastics. The sycamore and walnut composition of the bag contrasts the translucent, disposable materials that we have grown so accustomed to; and the neutral shades of brown are less obnoxious than the logos and commercial rhetoric that are unfortunately always within eyeshot. By featuring the piece which initially debuted at the VUE Contemporary Art Fair at Dublin’s Royal Hibernian Academy Gallery, discussions were revived on the relationship between natural materials and manufactured items. The piece’s engagement in environmental discourse successfully advocates for art’s generation of topical issues.
Yanny Petters’ Hand Fan for Habitats II muses on similar issues of sustainability and the fashion industry’s role in climate change in particular. A bit of background reading on the gallery’s website enlightened me regarding the nine floral motifs depicted on the panes of glass operating as representatives of the nine habitats of Ireland — heath, grasslands, and wetlands to name a few. With each species signifying the native plants from each habitat, Petters graphs a semiotic map of Ireland’s habitat. Petters uses a technique called verre églomisé, a form of painting on the back of glass, to attain ostensible depth and space which seemed to me to reflect the abundance of nature that is being defiled by the fashion industry.
In Just Boys and Girls, Kelly Ratchford remembers the collective and individual loss embodied by the 1916 Easter Rising. Her layout of forty smaller works on one larger board avoids depersonalising the forty Irish children who were shot and killed during the tragedy, ensuring that their memory does not exist only as a statistic. The dimensions of the work, with each smaller board sizing at 12 x 8 cm, manifest the scale of the tragedy without suggesting that measurements can truly quantify such loss. Through conflicting images of innocence, juvenility, loneliness, and anxiety, Ratchford achieves an ambiguity that unsettles the audience.
“Although the work emphasises the theme of home, through a dark and dull palette the artist clarifies that this is a degenerated and deteriorated version of what stood before.”
Tinteán Tréigthe XV by Eoin Mac Lochlainn recollects the diasporic struggle that plagued 20th-century Ireland. Similarly to Ratchford, Mac Lochlainn pays acute attention to humanising those afflicted by displacement. The unique arrangement of each fireplace notes the distinctive attributes and temperaments of all affected. The empty frame, staged centre by Mac Lochlainn, left me speculating the identity of the original inhabitants. Although the work emphasises the theme of home, through a dark and dull palette the artist clarifies that this is a degenerated and deteriorated version of what stood before.
Olivier and his team charged the exhibition with equal parts nostalgia and optimism for the future of the national art scene. A loaded calendar follows, namely Eoin Mac Lochlainn’s upcoming exhibition entitled Cogadh na gCarad / The War between Friends, opening on March 7 to commemorate the tragedy of the Irish Civil War. Ultimately, the retrospective decade of exhibitions at the Olivier Cornet Gallery was decidedly emblematic of a comprehensive commitment to celebrating Irish art.