Dublin Contemporary in peril?

This morning’s article by Aidan Dunne in the Irish Times confirmed what many had heard as rumour/speculation: Rachael Thomas is no longer one of the artistic directors of the high profile Dublin Contemporary project, despite her central role as one of its founders:

WITHIN THE past few days, all references to Dublin Contemporary’s artistic director Rachael Thomas have disappeared from the event’s website. This follows on from intense speculation about her position over the past month. Given that late last week Thomas was still very active as artistic director and said she had no intention of stepping aside, this suggests she had an abrupt change of heart. A founder of Dublin Contemporary, Thomas has been its driving force for several years.

A spokesperson for Dublin Contemporary says that Thomas, who was on secondment from her position as Head of Exhibitions at Imma, is returning to the museum. There is no artistic director of Dublin Contemporary at present, though developments will be announced early next month.

Thomas’s departure throws into sharp relief questions that have hung over the international festival of contemporary art, scheduled to take place in Dublin later this year, since it was launched with some fanfare last July.

Dunne suggests it was Thomas with an ‘abrupt change of heart’, but it seems hardly likely such a move was cordially agreed, and it has the appearance of a forced exit. Dunne goes on to criticise the DC for its lack of transparency, failure to communicate programme information, and confused sense of mission or purpose:

Communications have not been handled well. Bland, jargonistic generalities have too often taken the place of hard information. Those not directly involved might eventually feel they are being taken for granted. And the art world has been abuzz with rumours that Dublin Contemporary HQ is not a happy camp.


Can Dublin Contemporary go ahead without the input of the person who shaped its as yet uncertain identity, the person who is certainly responsible more than anyone else for its existence? Presumably it could go ahead in some form or another. The unpalatable truth may be, though, that Dublin Contemporary shouldn’t just be postponed, it should be cancelled and rethought from the ground up. The evidence so far suggests that it needs a more inclusive, strategic approach than has been evident, with closer involvement from all interested parties – including the main galleries in Dublin and other cultural bodies.

The criticisms Dunne references are hardly new, and have plagued the project since the beginning. Unfortunately the ultimate timing of the project couldn’t have been worse, though this was no fault of its founders — in a flush Celtic Tiger Ireland, what could have seemed more apt than an art event of this scale, finally placing Dublin on the international art tourism map? As the date has drawn nearer, the lack of programme information, involvement of the St Patrick’s Festival team (signalling a philosophical orientation very different from that of a typical biennale style event), and the proposed scale of the project versus capability to deliver have occasioned anxiety in many quarters. Nevertheless Thomas & Dowling managed to garner a significant amount of goodwill (and of course funding) towards the project, and this recent news has occasioned much dismay amongst those involved with or anticipating the DC. From a personal standpoint, many past and current students have been tremendously excited by the concept, eager to participate and lend assistance, and take part in such an ambitious project. I am saddened and worried about this turn of events.

Even more perplexing is the failure of the DC to issue an official statement on the situation– there are too many rumours circulating at the minute, too many clashing cooks in the kitchen and too much at stake for the visual arts in Ireland. Dunne has, quite rightly, issued a strong challenge to the DC executive team to reconsider the wisdom of plowing ahead. If it is the case that the DC is sufficiently developed and prepared to continue, it is not in their best interest to wait until March for a detailed announcement. Given the number of people who have committed professionally and personally to this endeavour, I hope this mess can be sorted soon, and a workable and realistic strategy be communicated.

note: CIRCA has an online post on the news item here (though no comments yet), but I’d welcome any comments/reactions below as well.

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