Response to ‘Giorgio Griffa’ (Gallery 1) & Corita’ (Gallery 2), The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland, May 2014.
By Sam Tranum
Gray, cavernous, severe, minimalist. The Douglas Hyde Gallery is far from welcoming. A young man sitting at a desk near the front entrance neither looked up nor spoke to welcome the visitors who entered this cave on a recent afternoon. Descending the stairs into the bowels of the brutal, bare concrete building, the visitors found the gallery dim, with almost no natural light.
The floor is cold and bare and expansive and the ceiling — seemingly miles away — hosts exposed ductwork. A young woman reading a book guards the gallery, sternly warning the nattering, picture-snapping visitors that photographs are not allowed, embarrassing them into an uneasy silence as they view the prints and paintings on offer.
The current show (May 30 to July 30) features paintings by Giorgio Griffa (b.1936 in Torino, Italy) and prints by Corita (b.1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, USA). Admission is free. There are accessibly written bits of text on the walls explaining who these two artists were, and a little about their work.
Corita, for example, was also known as Sister Mary Corita Kent. She spent 30 years in a Hollywood convent before leaving to devote her life to making art. What seemed to be dozens of her brightly colored prints are crowded into the Douglas Hyde’s little Gallery 2, along with a television playing a video about her life and work, and three chairs.
The joyfulness of the prints is a pleasant contrast to the dreary seriousness of the setting. But there are so many of them crowded into the little gallery that they melded into a nearly undifferentiated crowd of happily chattering primary colors and inspirational slogans, making it difficult to focus on just one: “Guard me oh Lord,” “Jesus never fails,” “Hope is the memory of the future,” “Give a damn.”
The work is cheery and uplifting in a kitschy way, but it does not impress. The posters feel like they should be hanging on the wall of a waiting room belonging to a dentist who went to a Corita exhibit at a museum or gallery while visiting a dental convention in California and visited the gift shop on the way out. One even helpfully offers clues to when and where the convention was, with text across the bottom reading: “Confronting Cancer Through Art 1987, Brand Library Art Gallery, California, May 9 – June 2, 1987.”
Emerging back into the oversized-elevator-shaft-like Gallery 1, trying to be quiet so as not to provoke the young invigilator (or interrupt her reading), one of the visitors — now taking notes, camera hidden away — is dismayed to find her trying to catch his attention. “Am I not allowed to take notes, either?” he asks, peevishly. She ignores the question, saying brightly: “The prints and posters will be distributed in a free raffle at the end of the exhibition,”.
Gallery 1 hosts the paintings by Giorgio Griffa. His work, according to the gallery, “is directly linked to the Arte Povera movement in 1960s Italy, which employed everyday or humble materials to make objects that were richly evocative in meaning.”
Griffa’s paintings do not seem to belong in Gallery 1. While the gallery is heavy and industrial, the paintings are on what appears to be un-primed, un-stretched, un-framed canvas or linen — on tablecloth-sized rectangles of off-white cloth, in other words. They look like they are waiting to flutter in the wind, if the Douglas Hyde Gallery would allow such frivolity.
The cloths have been folded as if they have been stored in a linen closet or drawer and then unfolded and hung on the wall. The creases are still visible. This makes the visitor think the artist didn’t take himself too seriously, that these paintings are just things he dashed off on tablecloths for a laugh during a dinner party at a villa in Tuscany, with guests all sitting watching, some teasing him, some encouraging him. It seems he just brushed the breadcrumbs off of them after dinner and folded them away until months later when one of the guests, who happened to own a gallery in a city not too far away, remembered them and asked him for permission to hang them.
He apparently didn’t have time to paint much on these tablecloths: a few pastel-colored lines stacked on top of each other, some hesitant dotted lines stuttering their ways toward a frayed edge, a set of identical translucent splotches repeating, repeating, repeating. Each work looks light and gentle and sun-bleached and casual. Each also appears unfinished: if there is a set of six stacked lines stretching across the cloth, for example, one below the other, each a different color, perhaps the last one will extend only half-way across the cloth.
This irritated the visitor slightly, making him want to get a paint brush and finish the lines, complete the patterns. But this is clearly less about the art than about the viewer. An online quiz entitled “What Mental Disorder Do You Kind of Have?” recently showed the viewer a series of images of patterns with one element out of place — four piles of M&Ms, all neatly separated by color except for one stray green one in with the oranges — and asked if there was anything about the images that bothered him. There was.
Please excuse the dearth of photographs in this post. After the first one, taken openly in Gallery 2 with disastrous consequences (a scolding), it took a while to find a position behind a wall, hidden from the view of the invigilator, to take a hurried shot of Gallery 1.
‘Giorgio Griffa’ (Gallery 1) & Corita’ (Gallery 2), The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland, May 2014.
Photographs (not) taken by Sam Tranum