Ringing in The New at the RHA

President of the RHA, Abigail O’Brien Photo© Amelia Stein

The Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) Annual Exhibition had a record number of artists and their work on show this year, but the real record-breaker was the appointment last month of their first female President in its 195-year history, Abigail O’Brien, 94 years after the first female RHA Member, Sarah Purser, was elected in 1924.

An MFA graduate from the National College of Art and Design, O’Brien’s work ‘employs many media including photography, sculpture, video, sound and hand-made embroidered objects’. As President of the RHA, O’Brien also takes a seat on the Board of the National Gallery of Ireland as an ex-officio member.

This year the RHA Annual show had 2,600 open submissions, from which 350 works were selected for the three-month exhibition. While the new President has expressed a desire ‘to widen the Membership of the RHA within the younger generation’, with a Charter allowing for a maximum of 30 Members, and a vacancy arising only with the peal of the church bells or a move up to ‘Senior’ status (with a max. capacity of ten), the girth here really isn’t that wide. Thus, O’Brien might look at extending the exposure for the ‘younger generation artists’ in another fashion; Online.

O’Brien might look at extending the exposure for the ‘younger generation artists’ in another fashion; Online

While it’s hard enough for young artists to secure a studio space, a gallery show for many is a wistful aspiration, so their public interface is too often confined to their own website. The Annual RHA show may not allow room for additional pieces, but were the 2,250 unselected works deemed simply not good enough? Is space the issue, or part of it? And in any case, if you asked an ‘unselected for exhibition’ submitted artist would they like to go on the RHA Annual Online Show, to be included in their €15 a piece submission fee, might some of them say ‘yes please’. Elemental consideration for a new President whose current body of work is employing the themes of The Cardinal Virtues; Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence and Justice.

Brigid Mulcahy