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Art for progress's sake [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Sun Aug 1st, 2021 at 01:46:12 PM EST

The Irish Museum of Modern Art is putting on a four part programme of exhibitions to celebrate it's 30 years of existence. Funding for the arts in Ireland has always been minimal, and even more so for avant garde, innovative, or progressive modern art. And yet many Irish artists have contributed significantly to the social revolution that has happened in Ireland over the past 30 years. I must declare a personal interest as a close personal fiend, Pauline Cummins, is one such artist who will be featured in a later phase of the programme.

The Irish Times Arts and Culture Editor, Hugh Linehan, has seen fit to publish a hatchet job on the programme, having to date only seen some promotional material for the launch of the programme. Many people find the verbiage that accompanies much of modern art hard to take, but that is not a reason to condemn a whole generation of artists who have contributed so much to the development of Irish art and positive social change with very little official encouragement whatsoever.

I have sent the letter below to the Irish Times as my riposte to his vitriolic condemnation, although I doubt it will be published as the Irish Times has a track record of not publishing any letters critical of its journalism. [update 2] Letter Published 3/8/21 with a critical response published August 6th. and my riposte published August 10th. [End Update]


Imma’s identity crisis?

A chara, – Hugh Linehan lets himself go a little bit in his rant against the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s (Imma) programme launched this weekend to mark its 30th anniversary (“Imma’s relentlessly on-message programme highlights its identity crisis”, Culture, July 31st).

Apparently, he finds its “relentlessly on-message progressivism” deeply dispiriting and like “being trapped for a very long time in the worst transition year project ever”.

According to him, it is “hopelessly in thrall to an instrumentalised theory of creative expression” and argues that it should instead focus more on art produced by “reactionaries and social pessimists”.

He characterises its long list of progressive themes – the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the provision of divorce, marriage equality, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, climate change, disruption of the social fabric, decolonisation, protest and conflict– as little more than a progressive “box-ticking exercise” and goes on to lament that the programme doesn’t deal with art’s role as a salve to the consciences of obscenely rich US capitalists who have obtained their wealth by dubious means, and that it doesn’t discuss the inherent contradiction in housing modern art in a museum in a grand historic building.

This is whataboutery at its best. It would be wonderful if Imma’s collection were housed in a Guggenheim-style dedicated modern building, but such funds have never been available to Imma.

What the programme does do is showcase some of the best work by internationally recognised Irish artists over the past 30 years.

Hugh Linehan says that it is hypocritical, ridiculous, and faintly absurd that Imma, as a State-funded body, should try to position itself as a “platform for resistance against the hegemony of the establishment and the status quo”, but do we not have many other galleries and museums containing art by “reactionaries and social pessimists”, and should the State not support work by progressive artists as well as conservatives?

Is society not to be allowed to reinvent and transform itself, and must the State always throw its weight against the democratically expressed wishes of the people?

Hugh Linehan’s rant reads like a cri de coeur against wokeism, but should we not celebrate the fact that at least one State institution is not entirely wedded to maintaining the status quo, difficult as that may be for a State-funded body?

It is not Imma that is having an identity crisis, but those who wish to oppose progressive change by all means possible. – Is mise,

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As you can imagine, there is plenty of criticism of IMMA coming from within the artistic community itself. But it has supported many young artists through difficult times when there were very few sources of support available. It's collection includes many of the more recent works of Irish artists which would not necessarily be very commercially saleable. It does not have much in the way of endowments from billionaire philanthropists so it is unclear why Hugh Linehan expects a critique of such philanthropy to be a central theme of its 30 year anniversary celebrations. Perhaps criticising foreign billionaires sits more comfortably with him than critiquing Irish society as it has evolved over the past 30 years and as it exists today.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Aug 1st, 2021 at 03:05:27 PM EST
It sounds like Hugh Linehan would, in his heart of hearts, prefer to be living in the society of thirty years ago and dislikes change in general.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 6th, 2021 at 03:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My current theory is that the curator pissed him off big time or that he has an aversion to the verbiage commonly used to describe modern art. So he had a go at the exhibition possibly even before he had seen it at first hand. In so doing he has repeated many popular tropes and provided a target for conservatives/reactionaries generally who are jumping on his bandwagon. I suspect he may be a bit embarrassed at the company he is now keeping.  But who knows? Perhaps he is letting his inner conservative loose having hobnobbed with liberal Irish Times types like Fintan O'Toole for all these years.

Declan McGonigle's letter (see below) is a very good take down as well. As the founding Director of Imma for many years, he can speak authoritatively for the artistic community, something I make no claim to do. I am adopting the Everyman role in the conversation...


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 6th, 2021 at 04:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are there, in fact, cohorts of contemporary social-reactionary Irish artists whose work is being callously ignored?

Or is it analogous to the alleged censorship of right-wing comedians, who, when examined on a case by case basis, turn out to be not funny enough to merit air time?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Aug 2nd, 2021 at 05:52:32 AM EST
Obviously there are many artists disappointed at the level of support they receive from IMMA, but there is no organised cohort of conservative minded artists who claim to have been discriminated against. Traditional artists can hardly complain if they are not supported by a museum dedicated to modern and innovative art forms.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Aug 2nd, 2021 at 02:17:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe, when confronted with such people we should remind them of the long history of such protests.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Aug 2nd, 2021 at 11:21:08 AM EST
Such exhibitions are obviously an "insult to German Irish feeling".

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Aug 2nd, 2021 at 11:22:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see I have provoked a response from a conservative reactionary:

Imma and the role of art museums

Sir, - Frank Schnittger (Letters, August 2nd), in his response to the powerful column by Hugh Linehan on Imma ("Imma's relentlessly on-message programme highlights its identity crisis", Culture, July 31st), seems to be living in a time warp.

He seems to think that Ireland is still a conservative, Catholic state "entirely wedded to maintaining the status quo", as if it was 30 or 40 years ago. In reality, Official Ireland has long since enthusiastically supported the so-called progressive agenda. We saw that most recently with the gay marriage ("marriage equality") referendum and the abortion referendum, not to mention ever-growing political correctness on issues of gender and identity. There is near-unanimity in the Irish media and political class in support of the progressive agenda, the European Union, immigration and multiculturalism. The real rebels in Ireland today are conservative Catholics and Eurosceptics. Pretentious left-wing artists are actually boringly conventional; in fact, petty bourgeois. - Yours, etc,

Dr FRANK GILES,

Ballsbridge,

Dublin 4.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 6th, 2021 at 08:36:35 AM EST
My draft response is as follows:
A Chara,-  Dr FRANK GILES, (Letters, August 6th') accuses me of living in a time warp and of thinking that Ireland is still a conservative, Catholic state.

In fact, nowhere in my letter did I refer to a conservative catholic state, and as a sociologist I see "the status quo" as a continually evolving reality which changes over time.

Indeed, we are discussing Imma's 30-year retrospective exhibition which charts the development of Irish art and the contribution Irish artists have made to our changing social perceptions and realities over that period.

Dr. Giles seems to believe that the real rebels of today are conservative Catholics and Eurosceptics. Tell that to the many people who are still forced to attend or fund Catholic run schools and hospitals against their will.

There he will find conservative Catholic art prominently displayed.

One such hospital even whitewashed over a mural it had commissioned of the joy of women giving birth painted by Pauline Cummins whose work is represented in a later phase of the Imma retrospective.

(See Fintan O'Toole on Pauline Cummins: The beginning of Labour, in Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks: Irish road to modernity has no straight lines.  - https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/imma-and-the-role-of-art-museums-1.4639859)

As for the Eurosceptics, I am unaware of their distinctive artistic contributions, unless one considers posters on the side of a bus claiming that Brexit will result in an extra £350 Million per week for the NHS to be a form of art.

Many claim it captured the English zeitgeist perfectly and consider Mr. Johnson to be a circus artist of considerable talent.

Perhaps, in thirty years' time, there will be a retrospective exhibition of Brexiteer and Irish Eurosceptic art. If so, I hope to be in a position to attend.

I have no doubt the Irish status quo will have changed considerably in that time, whether led by "boringly conventional, pretentious, left-wing, petty bourgeois artists" or otherwise.

For the moment, however, I will cherish the memories of the last 30 years as captured by Imma's retrospective exhibition.

I note neither Hugh Linehan nor Dr. Giles referred to a single artist or work of art contained therein. Perhaps a visit might surprise.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 6th, 2021 at 08:38:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Declan McGonigle, the retired founding Director of Imma has also had a  letter published (second letter down) in response to Hugh Linehan's initial hit job. It is very good but rather highbrow - only people familiar with debates within the artistic community would fully understand it on first reading.

Gile's letter, on the other hand, appeals to popular (conservative) sentiment that they are the ones being discriminated against now - an audience Hugh Linehan (perhaps inadvertently) pandered too.  It does give us the opportunity to continue the controversy, however, on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity if it raises public awareness of the exhibition.

I have responded humorously rather than with a snooty "you don't know what you are talking about", as it is important not to play into his characterisation of progressive artists as elitist establishment snobs who look down on the plain people of Ireland.

There is, in any case, an argument that Brexiteers won the emotional, artistic, and symbolic argument hands down, with the best slogans, symbols, and "political" performance art,  and Remainers trying to remain rational but afraid to say anything positive or incisive about the EU. We don't want to make the same mistake in Ireland.

The IT likes to publish the odd bad, but provocative letter to provoke discussion. They have effectively given me a right of reply should I choose to use it. I am not pretending to speak on behalf of the artistic community, rather as someone who appreciates their contribution to recent Irish civil and public life and would like to see Imma's contribution honoured rather than denigrated.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 6th, 2021 at 08:46:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Imma and the role of art museums

A chara,- Dr Frank Giles (Letters, August 6th) accuses me of living in a time warp and of thinking that Ireland is still a conservative, Catholic state.

Nowhere in my letter did I refer to a conservative Catholic state, and as a sociologist I see "the status quo" as a continually evolving reality which changes over time.

Indeed, we are discussing Imma's 30-year retrospective exhibition which charts the development of Irish art and the contribution Irish artists have made to our changing social perceptions and realities over that period.

Dr Giles seems to believe that the real rebels of today are conservative Catholics and Eurosceptics. Tell that to the many people who are still forced to attend or fund Catholic-run schools and hospitals against their will. There he will find conservative Catholic art prominently displayed.

As for the Eurosceptics, I am unaware of their distinctive artistic contributions, unless one considers posters on the side of a bus claiming that Brexit will result in an extra £350 million per week for the NHS to be a form of art.

Perhaps, in 30 years, there will be a retrospective exhibition of Brexiteer and Irish Eurosceptic art. If so, I hope to be in a position to attend.

I have no doubt the Irish status quo will have changed considerably in that time, whether led by Dr Giles or by "boringly conventional, pretentious, left-wing, petty bourgeois artists" or otherwise.

For the moment, however, I will cherish the memories of the last 30 years as captured by the Irish Museum of Modern Art's retrospective exhibition. - Is mise,



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Aug 9th, 2021 at 11:31:39 PM EST


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