Dublin’s Documenta Tries to Shape Up


The much-hyped and much-beleaguered Dublin Contemporary, a new citywide, international exhibition set to launch this fall, may finally have a game plan. On Mar. 4, just a month after being appointed, lead curators Christian Viveros-Fauné and Jota Castro released their preliminary list of some 60 artists (and growing).

With the theme “Terrible Beauty—Art, Crisis, Change and the Office of Non-Compliance,” inspired by W.B. Yeats’s poem “Easter 1916,” the show will include the Bruce High Quality Foundation, Lisa Yuskavage, Nina Berman, Wang Du, Omer Fast, Superflex, Goldiechiari, Dexter Dalwood, Jim Lambie, Tania Bruguera, and Ireland’s own Niamh O’Malley, James Coleman, Richard Mosse and Brian O’Doherty.

The theme, Viveros-Fauné told A.i.A., was chosen for its connection to Irish history, particularly a period of crisis—the violent Easter Rising against British rule. “Now is not a good time for art that rubs people the wrong way,” the curator says, but he and Castro, who have collaborated previously, want to be thoughtfully provocative, or, thoughtfully provocative without being aggressive or offensive.

Viveros-Fauné, art critic for the Village Voice, curator and former dealer and Volta fair organizer, and Castro, an artist, curator and former UN and EU diplomat, were brought in to replace artistic director Rachael Thomas, head of exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and cofounder of Dublin Contemporary. Though the Contemporary has been in the works for several years, Thomas had yet to submit satisfactory plans, so her contract was terminated in mid-January. Project director Lesley Tully said that at the time of her dismissal “only two artists were commissioned, James Coleman and Omer Fast.”

Thomas’s theme, “Silence,” inspired by James Joyce, was proving too self-fulfilling. Even with an experienced panel of curatorial advisors, including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Okwui Enwezor, Christine Macel, Enrique Juncosa, Oliver Dowling and Gerard Byrne, she didn’t seem able to get the ball rolling.

With Documenta-like aspirations, organizers initially promised an influx of 150,000 visitors and $18 million into the economy. Despite the island country having been particularly hard hit by the global recession, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport is underwriting the event for about $5.6 million (half of which will be returned through ticket sales) in the hope of realizing that promise.

In Ireland, the Dublin show has been the source of sustained controversy. “Launches” for the event have been held a handful of times since July 2010—in Dublin, London and New York—but failed to stimulate much interest, apparently due to the lack of substantive information. Many observers thought it would be too embarrassing to cancel the event, and just as embarrassing to launch a half-assed version. Some critics said that it should be canceled and reconceived from the ground up.

Jerome O’Drisceoil, director of Dublin’s Green on Red Gallery, is hopeful. “It’s a pity about the controversy,” he says, “but it’s an important event for the industry and artists here.”

Giving Dublin organizers the benefit of the doubt, O’Drisceoil observed that even the Venice Biennale doesn’t release its full program until shortly before the event. Nevertheless, he says, “there had been a bit of frustration about the lack of information. After all the press launches and dinners, people were still in the dark.” He is heartened by the recent change of events.

Dublin Contemporary is scheduled to take place Sept. 6–Oct. 31, 2011. Assuming all goes well, it should recur every five years.