Huge, ancient magnolias are in full bloom in Ireland’s oldest garden, which surrounds Lismore Castle in the Waterford countryside. Mauve aubretia crawls over the stone walls, while stiff white daffodils and brown fritillaries bow and greet each other on the lawns. Edmund Spenser is said to have composed his epic poem The Faerie Queene in the gnarled walk of the yews at the end of the 16th century, although magnolias were a Victorian addition, creating a glorious spring garden for successive Dukes of Devonshire.
It’s almost as if the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 never happened, except of course that we the general public are only here because it happened. The compulsory purchase of land from English landowners which followed it left Lismore with seven acres to support the upkeep of a whole heap of crumbling masonry. The response of the last heirs, the Earl and Countess of Burlington, was to rent the castle over the summer, let the formal gardens run wild and convert one of its abandoned outbuildings into an art gallery. , which has operated as a nonprofit since 2005. Its new summer show – girls girls girls – is a class act, both cheeky of the moment and locked in whispered conversation with its historical surroundings.
In the case of a painting, Upstairs Downstairs by Genieve Figgis, the whisper becomes a cry. It is the only work that has been personally selected by its (Irish) artist: it is Downton Abbey meets Mexican Day of the Dead, with macabre lords and ladies flanked by disfigured maidservants, in a parody of one of those atrocious all together photographs so beloved of Victorian aristocrats.
The painting commands attention, striking a subversive note that seems a little off until you turn around and find the discomfort staring at you from the opposite wall, where a pair of black twins in blue robes stand. neat, looking at each other, hands clasped anxiously. There is no explanatory text (a catalog is promised this summer), leaving curator Simone Rocha to explain the story behind the painting by Cassi Namoda, originally from Mozambique: they were identical twins, born into slavery in the United States and sold to a circus performance. .
Rocha, a fashion designer who created a real thrill in her native Ireland, has used her license as a charismatic art world outsider to amass an impressive international collection of work by female artists in their nearly 90s. . . The eldest is Louise Bourgeois, Rocha’s longtime muse, who would be 110 if she were still alive. The youngest is only 23 years old. All were chosen for works that “inspire, challenge and engage with femininity and its subversive characteristics”. Some stare at you and others are more hidden, she says. “I wanted them all to talk to each other.”
Fashion tortures are never far away. A rose-patterned blouse is embalmed with wax by German-Canadian artist Iris Haeussler. Looks like he’s running out of air. Ouch, I felt, as I lurched from Dorothy Cross’s 1994 cow’s udder installation Stilettos—every pointy toe a shrunken teat—to a surreal Petra Collins photograph of shoes so distorted a big toe protrudes like an old tree trunk. But if you look too closely at the overt connections, you might miss Georgian artist Elene Chantladze’s delicate Chagall-like fantasy, a unique piece, whose paintings on stone and old cardboard rest in two glass cases.
The baby of the show is the incredibly talented Sian Costello, who works in Limerick and has yet to be snapped up by a gallery. His three paintings titled Wishful Self-Portrait show a girl who could be a Velázquez Infanta, or a model in one of Rocha’s Victorian-inspired puffy nightgowns that were prominent over the weekend. launch but were inspired by the Whistler women in white, says Costello. The images are blurry, ambivalent, and missing a head, so only the performance of her dress remains. These little girls punch above their weight.
Twenty-six-year-old Sophie Barber wields a different authority, dominating the long gallery with a huge oil painting of two pink huts on stilts, mysteriously titled The Greatest Song a Songbird Ever Sang. Look to the side, and there are two groups of miniature kissing songbirds. One is about real birds (Barber, who grew up and still lives in Hastings, cites his ornithologist father as a key influence). The other is from Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Giving such a young artist such a pole position is a bold and brotherly move, and both in scale and color (there’s a lot of pink in the room so, hey, why not shout it out loud?), it walk.
It is only when arriving in the two antechambers that the deans of the living room appear. A series of Cindy Sherman’s perfectly composed self-portraits of Bus Riders form a right angle with a series of close-ups of Roni Horn’s weather-damaged face during a trip to Iceland. Polish Holocaust survivor Alina Szapocznikow’s lips are lit in a ghoulish humanoid table lamp made from a piece of orange resin shortly before her untimely death in 1973.
Only then do we come to two pieces by Bourgeois, tucked away in their own little turret farthest from the show. Rocha says she chose Janus in Leather Jacket from 1968 because of its reference to clothing, but to the uninitiated eye it hangs in the air like a big piece of shit someone tried to cover with pages of paper. ‘a book. An untitled bronze cross from 1993 with four clasped hands, with a small house at the end of one arm, pokes an ironic elbow at the relationship between women and the home. Positioning makes you think as much as wait. The turret is both a life sentence and a fantasy: a constraining bourgeois cell, and a perfect little tower room in a fairytale castle, as little girls dream of before waking up to the realities of life. .
Although the girls girls are the main attraction, it’s not the only show in town. A mile up the road, in a former Methodist chapel, American artist Matt Connors has installed four bright abstract paintings that replicate his windows exactly but are placed upside down on the opposite wall. The installation is titled Invert, a nod to her struggles with her own sexuality and Catholicism. At the right time of day, when the late afternoon sun streams through the stained glass windows, casting a net of brilliant colors across the floor, you can stand here and bask in the beauty of being outside and proud.