Thursday, April 16, 2009

Recession-proof Art - Sotheby's Irish Sale Preview at Lismore Castle

Easter weekend is over and one of the things on my to-do list was to visit the Sotheby's Irish Sale preview at Lismore Castle Art Gallery which took place on Friday and Saturday, an event that was free to all. I had missed this gig since its inception a few years ago, either because I didn't know it was on, and heard of it after the event, or I was away that weekend. So when I saw the piece in the Irish Times the previous weekend I flagged it as a must-see for the Easter weekend.

The gallery in Lismore Castle is a fairly recent innovation, the brainchild of the current resident of the Castle, Lord William Burlington, son of the Duke of Devonshire who lives in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire in England. I have referred to this family in my blog post on Devonshire Day last month. Lord Burlington had the West Wing of the Castle renovated from dereliction to its present ultra-modern minimalist state, a wonderfully lit art gallery with some side rooms and a round tower, and a smaller room at each end of the main gallery.

Last year there was a number of installations and weird sculpture on display, including a steel plate that the artist had urinated on to make it rust! I guess this is art in the Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin tradition of, well, different! There has been a previous Turner Prize winning entry here on display also, Richard Long's Slate Walk, which was only dismantled this year, and returned to the UK. This has left a long rectangular bed in the lower garden, which would make a nice vegetable patch or flower bed.

This exhibition showed the artworks that will go under the hammer in Sotheby's in London on May 7th from the Irish Sale, and it is fascinating to read the online catalogue with all the detail of the paintings and the artists. I was too stingy to spend €20 on the catalogue at the preview, given the recessionary times we live in, and bearing in mind that the that the Emergency/Mini/Supplementary Budget was still burning a major hole in my pocket I was pretty unprepared psychologically for the reserves on some of these works. I suppose I was surprised some were not dearer, given how well-known the artists are, and also surprised at the high cost of others that I had not heard much about.

This petrol pump painting was one of my favourites - it is so lifelike that I thought it was a photograph - but on closer inspection it is a painting by John Doherty entitled "Pay double this amount" and is oil on canvas with a reserve of £35-45,000/€38-48,000. It reminded me of those paintings of Edward Hopper that evoke rural isolation; gas stations on lonely roads, whimsical and nostalgic. Alain de Botton, the contemporary philosopher and social commentator depicted his works in his lovely book "The Art of Travel" which we read for our book club a few years ago. So for this alone I am glad I saw the exhibition; paintings can trigger happy memories too!

I was absolutely blown away by the more famous works, which I felt really privileged to see, as most were from private collections and going to auction on May 7th in Sotheby's in London, after a preview at Lismore, and two other venues on the island of Ireland, one in Belfast and one in Dublin.

What intrigues me is that so many of these works of Irish Masters past and present are in private collections, and that they are turning up for auction, some for the second year in succession, as Noll by William Orpen was on display last year. Is it being re-sold, or did it remain unsold? I am not sure, and I only heard that it is doing the rounds again through a friend who was at last year's show. It has a hefty reserve of between €250,000 and €350,000, and you would want to have a good large wall to display it.

Now I am not an art connoisseur, and claim no knowledge above that of the ordinary Joe Soap of art and their value, but I was pretty amazed at some of what passes for art and wonder if there isn't a bit of the Emperor's new clothes about it all! I can appreciate beauty and I am probably a traditionalist in that I prefer art that conveys some meaning rather than very abstract modern art. I absolutely love the surreal works of Dalí even though I abhor his Francoist/fascist politics, and have managed to separate them in my mind, whether this is ethical or not, and his Teatro Museum in Figueras is one of my favourite places to visit on the Costa Brava. I also love Picasso and Míro, though I haven't seen so much of their art.

So I was equally thrilled to see the works of Paul Henry, with his Connemara landscapes, and Jack B. Yeats, and also intrigued to see Louis le Brocquy's very abstract impressions of Francis Bacon and Beckett, and thought they would be way dearer. On the other hand I was pretty underwhelmed by the naive modern work by Scott of kitchen pots and pans, and thought I would put €500,000 to much better use, and likewise with the Roderic O'Conor Breton seascape. The latter was beautifully lit and had very vibrant colour but I didn't realise his work was commanding such value. The work by Sean Scully who is a leading contemporary Irish artist was very abstract and I guess I don't know enough art to fully appreciate it.

I was able to take photos with a clear conscience as I had the flash turned off, and the light was good enough to get a pretty good picture of most, except those with glass in the frames. They inevitably reflected the light and this affected their clarity. You can see all the pictures in the online catalogue if you wish, as I only took the photos for my pleasure and yours, and didn't realise they were all easy to view online.

Roderic O'Conor's Breton Seascape "Rocks and Foam, St Guénolé" (£300-£500,000)
It is fascinating to read the background to the paintings in the catalogue, as it gives a snapshot of the history of the time in pre- and post-colonial Ireland.
It certainly puts the recession into perspective, as there is no evidence of any constraint when it comes to private investment in art; perhaps people think there will be less likelihood of an "art bubble" than a property one.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if these great works could be bought by the State for the National Gallery instead of going yet again into anonymous private collections? We sometimes have our priorities skewed when it comes to showing national pride, and it could do wonders for our collective morale to have a stake in this art - surely we can claim it as much our heritage as are Joyce, Yeats and Synge, to name a but a few.
In any event, I wish them all a good home - meanwhile we can all enjoy the fruits of the artists' labours while the haves and the have-yachts agonise over their bids on May 7th in London!

The William Scott (See label below)

A selection of Louis le Brocquy - a tapestry and the Francis Bacon study

The entrance to the gallery at Lismore Castle Arts


Jeannette StG said...

Thank you for showing the Irish artists! Wish I could have been there:)
Of all the works of art I showed, Paul Henri I like the most - I saw his work for the first time on 2 different blogs in the past 2 weeks. His clouds are ominous and brooding. I would compare it to the American Edward Hopper (the latter is a bit more depressive, in my opinion).

Jeanne said...

Wonderful to see the artwork but I have to admit I'm blown away by the location. Wow!

Peggy said...

Great post, Catherine.I am glad you shared your photos as I would never have looked them up online anyway.I like Paul Henry and Jack Yeats as I can recognise the landscapes and the colours are so very Irish, no abstracts! Art installations leave me cold, A flickering bulb won the Turner prize a few years ago! I read a remark passed by someone viewing it, after studying this bulb going on and off for a few minutes the onlooker remarked ''I had one of like that and bought a new bulb''

The Cherry Tree Farm said...

What a fabulous post idea!

I really like the O'Conor "Rocks and Foam" one -- the clouds appeal to me. It's ironic that the title refers to the rocks and foam, but the sky is so dominant in the picture. But 20 euros (do I HAVE a euro symbol on the keyboard somewhere??) for a catalogue? Ouch! Perhaps it's yet another reminder that I am not the sort of person who is in the position to spend Sotheby's-level money for art. I spent an entire $60 for a framed print from Allposters for the dining room a few months ago and nearly went into a decline! (Boy are my heirs going to be disappointed.)

I like how the current resident of this castle seems to be so creative and open in his use of the property. kristin

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the comments and glad people like the page, it is nice to see so many art connoisseurs out there!
JEANNETTE - Love the Paul Henry works too, he is very good at capturing the misty Irish sky and the greyish reflections in the Irish light, and it is funny that you compare him to Hopper, whom I referred to with the petrol/gas pumps painting! And I suppose he is moody and could be depressive as I always think his paintings get you wondering what is going on in the background, but I do love them as very atmospheric, there's one of a lady in a cloche hat in a tearoom somewhere and it always reminds me of strangers on a train or something mysterious. So it's funny how different people relate to art!I know very little about art so it's good to have a real artist cast her eye over these works!

Catherine said...

JEANNE - glad you like the art and the setting, it is really beautiful and that's why I added so many links in the text so people could click onto them and see further about the castle and the gallery and Chatsworth, as well as Sotheby's. We probably take it all a bit for granted here that we live in a town with this castle on our doorstep. We have always had it so we only really value it when we go away or look at it through visitors' eyes. I love now being able to share it through the blogosphere and it's great that so many people can enjoy it too!

Catherine said...

PEGGY - haha about the Turner prizewinner, well not surprised about the light bulb, after Tracey Emin's tent - I believe a cleaning lady tidied it all up one day, though that may be an urban myth! Glad you liked seeing the photos, and yes it was handy to put them all in a slide show as well as in the post, as I had way too many for just the post. Did you see the Turner prize-winning Slate Walk in the link to Richard Long? That installation was truly weird, he is one weird installation artist, makes a lot of stone circles, videotapes himself making them and then destroys them - the transience of art or something profound! He also made muddy handprint patterns all over the gallery walls when he was the key exhibitor 2 years ago!
Agree about the Henry and Yeats, love real art! Busy weekend so not able to return to comment till now, must look at your blog again!

Catherine said...

KRISTIN - I had started a reply to you but it got deleted before I sent it, only realised it later. I agree about the castle being made accessible by the present owner, Lord Burlington, he will be the Duke when the incumbent pops his clogs in a few decades, he is only 64 or thereabouts so way to go. Burlington is only in his 30s and married with a baby due around now I believe. They are very nice and friendly, no nonsense with security or bodyguards, they come and go to events in town, musicals or plays or festivals, whatever.
Glad you liked the priciest painting even if it might stretch your budget! The sky on the Paul Henry is the best I think, though the O'Conor is great too. They are obviously aiming for those who think nothing of paying €20 for the catalogue! Not me I fear. On principle I wouldn't. The euro symbol on my keyboard is with the dollar/4 just press Ctrl and Alt together and hit it.That's if its there. Hope all well and will look at your blog, haven't visited many lately as I am way too busy.