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The Irish art galleries ringing the changes in 2018

4 January 2018

Two Irish cultural institutions will welcome new directors, and likely new directions, in 2018. Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery has been synonymous with Peter Murray for the past three decades, but last April he announced his retirement. During his long tenure, Murray not only oversaw a substantial extension to the city-centre premises but also more than doubled its core collection, plus supervised an exhibition programme that confidently juxtaposed the contemporary with the historical. The latter in particular often focused on distinguished, but insufficiently honoured, 18th- and 19th-century artists of Cork origin. Murray thereby encouraged the city to appreciate better its cultural credentials.

His successor, Mary McCarthy, has since 2009 run the National Sculpture Factory based in Cork but she also worked during the economic boom as Cultural Manager of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and as Programme Director for Cork for its year as European Capital of Culture in 2005. One suspects that McCarthy will focus more on the contemporary, but the hope remains that the Crawford does not forget the past in its pursuit of the present.

In Dublin, meanwhile, Sarah Glennie, director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art since 2012 now moves to run the National College of Art and Design. Less high-profile than her predecessor, Enrique Juncosa, Glennie has worked to improve both IMMA’s financial viability and its public profile. The result is that the institution was the country’s second most-visited free cultural attraction in 2016 (after the National Gallery of Ireland), developed a series of fund-raising initiatives, purchased work for the collection for the first time in a decade and created a series of new residency supports for Irish artists.

Rotating Vowels v (2014), Brian O’Doherty. Image courtesy the artist and Stoney Road Press

Glennie’s successor has yet to be announced but the programme for 2018 is already in place, opening with a show of Irish artist Brian Maguire’s paintings following his visit to Syria in 2017 (26 January–6 May) and ending with Wolfgang Tillmans’ first solo exhibition in Ireland (26 October–17 February 2019). In between highlights include an opportunity to see fresh work by veteran Brian O’Doherty (26 April–16 September), also subject of an exhibition at Crawford Art Gallery this year (2 March–27 May), and a much-needed retrospective devoted to the early 20th-century modernist Mary Swanzy, the first in forty years.

Robert O’Byrne is a writer specialising in the fine and decorative arts, and an Apollo columnist. He blogs at www.theirishaesthete.com.

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