Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sean Scully

The latest Culture Northern Ireland Newsletter contains a review of the new Ulster Museum by John Gray.  I have reproduced below his assessment of the art section of the museum, which is devoted entirely to a retrospective exhibition of the work of the Irish-American artist Sean Scully and I wonder how many people share his view of the exhibition?

"What then of art? The flagship re-opening exhibition is Constantinople or the Sensual Concealed, a major retrospective by Sean Scully. As with much modern abstract art the appeal of this is decidedly obscure. In the context of the re-opening this suggests a new ambition; to place the Ulster Museum centre stage in the world of modern art. In the meantime the specifically local or Irish art actually in its collections seems to have disappeared, though a re-appearance beckons by March 2010. It seems a misplaced order of priorities."


  1. His assessment seems fair to me. I visited the museum several weeks ago and, whilst impressed by its transformation, I was equally disappointed by the omission of their collection of Old Masters.

    I must admit to a prejudice, though: I cannot fathom, nor appreciate the beauty, of modern, abstract "art".

    I asked an attendant where the Old Masters where: she informed me that they would be displayed in about three months' time.

    They have, I think, more than a dozen art galleries; and every one of them was filled with abstract art. So I walked past and on to the excellent taxidermic bird collection!


  2. We were in last Saturday (and I blogged a bit about it). The never ending walls of abstract Scully seemed overkill until my eye started to catch the differences in the pieces and the development of his technique. Some were three dimensional, some even had stripes.

    Fundamentally, without the volume of work I probably wouldn't have started to appreciate what it was about. Yet, at the end of the day, it was still a lot of abstract stripy paintings by one artist ... and a bit more variety would be good. But art's not my thing ...

    They did tie it in well with the Discover Art kids zone.

  3. I too found it misplaced, but only in the context of the space available. There is nothing wrong with modern or abstract art, however easy it is to score populist points by disparaging it, and no one can fault the museum for wishing to make a splash following its reopening.

    I have no idea what plans DCAL has in this regard, but if Northern Ireland lacks a dedicated art gallery that can mount large-scale permanent and temporary exhibitions simultaneously, something is decidedly wrong.

  4. There was talk, at one time, of the old Ewart Building, opposite the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street, as a suitable site for an art gallery.

    Sadly, nothing seems to have been done about that.


  5. 'In the meantime the specifically local or Irish art actually in its collections seems to have disappeared, though a re-appearance beckons by March 2010. It seems a misplaced order of priorities.' John Gray

    A typical piece of populist writing. The Ulster Museum aimed to re-open on an international stage and you can't do that with Irish art - no matter how much one would like it to be so. The Irish art is still there and I look forward to seeing it in due course. Well done Ulster Museum for helping us see ourselves beyond our usual narcissism.

  6. Thank you Columban!

    I don't think most people in Belfast realise just how lucky they are to have such an extraordinary exhibition of the work of an extremely important contemporary artist. Instead of carping on as though the old collection had been thrown on a bonfire, visitors could try opening their minds to an art experience very, very few are privileged to enjoy (especially FOR FREE) while it lasts.

    Pet peeve: Parents in the art galleries TELLING their children that the art is no good. Left to make their own mind up, most children absolutely love the paintings currently on display. If only so-called adults could show the same open-mindedness.