During our visit to this year’s Sculpture in Context exhibition at the National Botanic Gardens, the Bookworm and I decided to indulge in a little harmless window-shopping. It was a variation on the ‘which one would you take home if you could afford it’ game that we often play after an exhibition. The rules were as follows: we had a budget of €20,000 to spend on art to show case Irish artists in a foreign embassy (unspecified) garden. Don’t ask me why we picked that scenario, it made sense at the time. I suppose that even in fantasy, we felt squeamish about buying things for ourselves. We felt constrained to honour our imaginary budget to the extent that we invented another commission; that of buying for a children’s hospital when we came across more art than our budget could accommodate. It was probably taking the art buying fantasy a little too seriously, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. I just hope nobody overheard us earnestly discussing our ‘purchases ‘and took us for genuine buyers.
We set off for the Botanic Gardens on a dull morning, but it was at least dry, though rain threatened all afternoon. After taking one look at the louring sky, we decided to view the outdoor pieces first while the going was good. Before heading into the gardens, we detoured into the Alpine House in the little walled garden near the Visitor Centre. There, we came upon out first virtual purchase: ‘Bell’ by Deirdre Hayden and Jeremy Simmons. This was a small brass bell, coated with bluebell heads in resin, suspended above the central planting bed in the glasshouse. As we stood and admired the flower finish, we heard a bell chiming. We belatedly realised that the piece had a sound installation component (it helps if you read the exhibition programme) and immediately decided that we wanted this piece. Given that we were paying with funds even more imaginary than Monopoly money, we could afford to pay the asking price of €2,500 without wincing too much.
Our next imaginary purchase was only a short distance away, perched in the middle of a very small ornamental pond. This was Veronica Stellet’s ‘Ruin’, a miniature gothic ruined castle made from wood, metal and stone. It was a mere snip at €180 and of course, we had the required imaginary pond (in our fictitious embassy garden) upon which to site it. All we needed was a few miniature people to inhabit it, but fantasy will only stretch so far. Warming to our pretend art-buying task, we strolled around the gardens, catalogue and pens in hand. As always at Sculpture in Context, there was much to see and admire. However, inevitably we could not enthuse over some pieces for various reasons. The great delight of this exhibition is finding pieces in unexpected places. There is a magic in discovering site-specific artworks, which enhance and complement the natural surroundings. It is also brilliant to see so many families enjoying the exhibition; spotting the sculptures seems to be a great game for younger kids.
I think we did actually manage to see almost all of the 150 plus sculptures, despite running short of time and having to scoot around the indoor pieces in the Visitor Centre. The range of materials and styles of work are incredible. I’m pleased to see artists exploring ways of re-using materials and objects, such as Deirdre Hegarty’s ‘A Rose by any Other Name’ (using drinks cans) and Joe Nagle’s ‘Floral Subversion’ (amongst other things, traffic cones). I love wood carvings and there were pieces in chestnut, pine driftwood, oak and elm. As I have probably said before, one visit to Sculpture in Context is never enough; neither is an imaginary purchase budget of €20,000 (we ran over by €1,860) so next year we may be rash and up the figure to €30,000 unless I manage a win on the Prize Bonds by then so that we can use real cash.
And what about our extra role-playing purchases I hear you enquire? Well, when we spotted Breda Marron’s willow and wood sculpture ‘Inner Sanctum II’ we simply had to give it a good home. The piece is a large construction that you can enter, walking round a spiral into a cunningly designed private space. At €16,000 it over ran our embassy budget by miles so we decided that we ought to buy it for a therapy centre or a children’s hospital where it would, I am sure be greatly appreciated. In sheer generosity of spirit, we added Nicky Hooper’s ‘Caliope’, colourful horses made from laser cut Perspex at €85 a pair for our imaginary children’s hospital. I won’t bore you with the full list of our ‘purchases’, suffice to say that we enjoyed our choices and wished that we could really take them home!
If you’re in Dublin this week and have time for a stroll, it’s well worth a visit to the National Botanic Gardens to catch the exhibition which closes on 17 October. If you have already been, I’d love to know which were your favourite pieces!
Picture Credits: Verity, with thanks.