The big, comprehensive exhibition ‘Shaping Ireland’ at the National Gallery of Ireland, has received much coverage (not to say publicity) and has fully deserved it. It is, in essence, a landscape exhibition that has found room for many trends, periods and even media – photograpy is included, a sensible decision and even an unavoidable one, given the vitality of ART comment ‘art’ photography in this country over the last few decades in particular.
Landscape has a special place in the national psyche, as is shown by early Irish nature poetry, the lyrics of the Fiannuigheacht cycle, the Gaelic poets of the 18th century etc. The same is true, of course, of many Yeats poems. The purely visual aspect is something else, since Irish painting was such a late starter historically. However, with figures such as Nathaniel Hone (to quote a single example), we have made up for lost time, and landscape artists in recent decades have found no trouble in fitting landscape into a Modernist or Post-Modernist vocabulary.
In the case of the present exhibition, many of the exhibits come from the gallery’s own collection, while others included were of relatively easy access
One aspect of this Irish landscape exhibition, however, does need to be noted; that of paid admission. The NGI has mounted a number of outstanding exhibitions recently: Vermeer, Roderic O’Conor, Canaletto, etc. These, however, were travelling events (or in the case of O’Conor, had many works loaned from overseas); and big travelling shows – it goes without saying – are costly affairs. In the case of the present exhibition, many of the exhibits come from the gallery’s own collection, while others included were of relatively easy access.
The admission price for adults is €15, something of an impost on the casual visitor, who may think of the NGI as a public amenity, like the National Museum. The National Gallery is a public institution with, among other things, a recognised educational function, which, certainly, it does not neglect. But the concession of a few euros might prove a small price to pay for attracting those to whom visual art remains largely an unexplored territory.