Dublin Has a ‘Grass-Roots’ Gallery Weekend. How Much Can It Grow?

Dublin Has a ‘Grass-Roots’ Gallery Weekend. How Much Can It Grow?

“The art weekend is the antithesis of an art fair,” added Mr. Kavanagh, who, like many gallerists, says he has mixed feelings about the international art fair treadmill. “But do we have enough galleries to make it work?”

Mr. Kavanagh was showing the Nature of Drifting, an exhibition of 16 works by the Berlin-based artist Ulrich Vogl, who turned 3-D maps into visual metaphors for the geopolitical issues of our time. In one work, “The Land Beyond the Sea,” Ireland is modeled in relief, adrift in the whiteness of the gallery wall.

“The market is a certain size, and the economy is still not good for art,” said Mr. Kavanagh, referring to the boom and bust of the country’s “Celtic Tiger” years.

Mr. Kavanagh estimated that there were fewer than 10 serious collectors of international contemporary art in Ireland. By the end of the gallery weekend, his show had made one confirmed sale at 800 euros, or about $950.

This year’s edition of Gallery Weekend Berlin featured 47 commercial dealers. The Dublin equivalent included 16 dealerships, whose presentations were combined with six artist-run galleries and 12 non-selling shows at public institutions.

The Kerlin Gallery is a Dublin dealership that regularly cultivates the top tier of international collectors and curators by exhibiting at all three of the Art Basel fairs (the 16th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach previews on Wednesday) and at the West Bund fair in Shanghai.

For the gallery weekend in Dublin, Kerlin used its elegant John Pawson-designed spaces to present 16 paintings by Stephen McKenna, a British-born postmodern figurative artist who died in May, age 78, having lived most of his life in Ireland. Though primarily aimed at a domestic audience — Mr. McKenna had exhibited with Kerlin Gallery since its founding in 1988 — the show did make at least one long-distance sale to a European collector based in Asia, according to John Kennedy, the dealership’s director.

The 2012 painting by Mr. McKenna called “Poussinesque — Euphoria,” an image of figures in a landscape, inspired by Poussin’s “Dance to the Music of Time” and priced at 32,400 euros, or about $38,400, was among two confirmed sales by Kerlin.

“The world is getting smaller,” said Mr. Kennedy, referring to his increasingly international customer base. But will the internationalization of Dublin itself expand that base? “I like to think there’s room for enlargement,” Mr. Kennedy said. “But it’s too early to tell. We’ll see.”

There was, it had to be admitted, a conspicuous contrast on Friday afternoon between the hordes of shoppers flowing down the main thoroughfares of O’Connell Street and Grafton Street and the paucity of visitors venturing into the city’s galleries.

Without a critical mass of contemporary dealerships, Dublin Gallery Weekend has to include in its program non-selling shows, such as that of the Canadian post-conceptual photographer Rodney Graham at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. As a result, distinctions between commerce and curation can sometimes blur.

Mother’s Tankstation, for example, is the only other Dublin dealership that regularly exhibits at Art Basel’s fairs. For Dublin Gallery Weekend, it showed “Electrical Gaza,” a 2015 video by Rosalind Nashashibi, who has been shortlisted for the 2017 Turner Prize. The film, about the challenges of domestic life in Gaza, was part of a museum-style program of video screenings at the gallery curated by Maeve Connolly, a film theorist based in Dublin.

Finola Jones, director of Mother’s Tankstation, said, “We’re part of the market, but we do it our own way.” She said that the video program was “not a commercial element” in the weekend, but that sales inquiries might be made to the galleries that represented the artists.


A 2016 digital print called “cknShGMyb0yCrlE47jFmfQ_0_0.jpg,” by Alan Butler.

Four curators selected works by 22 artists for a review of the current Irish art scene that was crammed into a single gallery at the nonprofit Pallas Projects complex. Some pieces were on loan, others were for sale, such as the quirkily titled 2016 digital print of a homeless woman, “cknShGMyb0yCrlE47jFmfQ_0_0.jpg,” by Alan Butler. Adapted from a character in the computer game Grand Theft Auto and highlighting the issue of poverty in Dublin, the work was priced at €1,250, or about $1,500.

“We haven’t got as many dealers as Berlin, so we have to mix things a bit,” said Mr. Butler, who is represented by the Green on Red Gallery in Dublin. “There are new types of wealth coming into the city,” he added, “but are these people interested in art?”

Rayne Booth, the director of Dublin Gallery Weekend, acknowledged the challenges. “There’s always been a great emphasis on theater and literature in Ireland,” she said. “People are a bit afraid of contemporary art.” She added that the situation had not been helped by the failure of the 2011 Dublin Contemporary exhibition to establish itself as a five-yearly fixture. “This is a grass-roots event,” said Ms. Booth of the gallery weekend. “It’s definitely in the early stages.”

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