New Limerick gallery boss wants it to ‘resonate and be relevant’

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

New director-curator of Limerick City Gallery of Art, Una McCarthy, who started the job in February. Picture: Gareth Williams
THE return of the permanent collection to the walls of the Carnegie Building at Limerick City Gallery of Art will be welcomed in many quarters, while also serving as a reminder of just how expansive the cache of works really is.

THE return of the permanent collection to the walls of the Carnegie Building at Limerick City Gallery of Art will be welcomed in many quarters, while also serving as a reminder of just how expansive the cache of works really is.

Standing in front of a snapshot of the collection – 3,000 strong and one of the largest and most significant in the country – is like meeting old friends, those which had largely been in storage during the renovation years of the gallery and in recent years, with the focus on temporary and often cutting edge visual art exhibitions the preferred focus.

This September, to mark 30 years since the whole of the Carnegie was given over to the gallery, two exhibitions will open under the watchful gaze of new director Una McCarthy, in the position since February.

One is the selection of works by former curator Paul O’Reilly from the permanent collection, made up as it is of historic and contemporary works from hundreds of artists including Jack B Yeats, John Shinnors, William Leech, Sir John Lavery and Sean Keating, while also retaining that cutting edge in the form of Mark Curran’s multi-media project focussing on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and curated by former director Helen Carey.

Una says there is a certain “synchronicity” in having two former directors of LCGA curate the exhibitions, which kick off a series of events, grouped under the catch all title of 30 Days Hath September.

“I have decided to take a year zero approach as this as a dedicated gallery space opened in 1985. We just felt that it would be a nice thing to do to take the collection out and present it again to the people of Limerick, whose collection it is, by the way, to see it in all its glory,” says Una, from Charleville but who was born in Limerick, is a UL graduate and refers to herself as “hopeful, determined and passionate” about the gallery and the city.

“What we have done is actually something that Paul did in the mid-90s, which is called a salon hang and already you can see the smiles on people’s faces. They are just so proud of this collection and so thrilled to see it, not quite in its entirety, but a fairly full on version of the collection is to be seen.

“We hope to extend and to introduce people to newer work that we have acquired over the last 15-20 years and works that may not have been seen in the past. So I was quite keen that that happen and so we are taking the upper floor galleries and presenting and extending the collection up there.”

Education minister Jan O’Sullivan – a keen supporter of the arts in Limerick – will launch the exhibitions this Thursday, which run until October, while an eclectic programme of talks, walks, song and dance will also take place.

Minister O’Sullivan will also announce news of the Shinnors Scholar, who will work in the gallery for two years while studying in LSAD, quite a boon for a gallery that only has two full time employees and is open seven days a week, with free admission.

Una is keen to form partnerships with the academic institutions in the region and a new exhibition opening in January will focus on the work of the FabLab on Patrick Street, as well as the arrival of Sean Lynch’s entry to the Venice Biennale. After that it is into EVA International, meaning her first dedicated programme will begin next autumn, when the status of the 2020 bid should be known and, she explains, the “impetus will be very much working toward that”.

With regard to the future for the gallery, Una, who most recently held the position of Head of Festivals and Local Arts at the Arts Council, wants to reconnect as a priority.

“What I want to do is resonate with artists and arts makers, but also to be relevant - in an exciting way, in a way that is kind of marking new territory,” she says.

“It is early days, but we are slowly getting to take shape and form the gallery. I want it to be big, bold and international, but the relevance is about people in Limerick who feel that pride in this, as theirs. That is a daunting but interesting little path to walk down.

“The biggest gap that would I see in our current provision, is that we have nobody who is engaging with the public, there is no coherent education policy, and that is something that is really high on my agenda.

“No cultural institution in the 20th century hasn’t identified that as a very serious gap and a very integrated part of their whole programming policy and delivery. That is a priority.”