Sir, – Frank Schnittger (Letters, August 2), in his response to Hugh Linehan’s powerful column on Imma (“Imma’s Relentless Message Show Highlights Her Identity Crisis”, Culture, July 31) , seems to live in a Temporal Distortion.
He seems to think that Ireland is still a conservative Catholic state “fully committed to maintaining the status quo”, as if it were 30 or 40 years ago. In fact, Official Ireland has long enthusiastically supported the so-called progressive agenda. We saw this recently with the same-sex marriage referendum (“marriage equality”) and the abortion referendum, not to mention the ever-growing political correctness on issues of gender and identity. There is near unanimity in the Irish media and politicians in favor of the progressive agenda, the European Union, immigration and multiculturalism. The real rebels in Ireland today are conservative Catholics and Eurosceptics. Pretentious artists on the left are actually boring and conventional; in fact, petty bourgeois. – yours, etc.,
Doctor FRANK GILES,
Sir, – Hugh Linehan’s response to the launch of Emma’s 30th anniversary program is oddly reactionary. He criticizes Imma for engaging with the world we live in and for its location in an important heritage building in Dublin 8 – to which public access was provided by the opening of Emma in 1991. His argument is regressive and still seems to be in the grip of a model of artistic practice and institutional practice that values art as an antidote to reality rather than a means of understanding and transforming it.
The purpose of art, when viewed in the long term rather than the short term, has always been to try to understand reality and to re-present and communicate that understanding. It is a societal process and that is why art – whatever its form and location – has always been a societal necessity.
The art business is also confused with the art business in the play. The art business has always been about exploring the nature and meaning of human experience in the world, while the art business is fundamentally about the movement of money and the ownership of goods. Not at all the same. The art business is inevitable but incidental to Emma’s role in creating public value. Addressing pressing societal issues, as in Emma’s program, as part of a larger strategy, is therefore something to be expected, rather than damned, before it has even been achieved.
Hugh Linehan also sees the tension between the Royal Hospital building and its function as a museum of modern art as an obstacle to Emma taking on the responsibilities of a museum of modern art in 21st century Ireland. Yet many other museums of modern art, in Europe in particular, which are consciously housed in heritage buildings and sites, share Emma’s understanding that the tension between past and present is a dynamic part of the subject of ‘a museum and ongoing societal dynamics, particularly true in Ireland.
The real problem here, evident in this piece, is the nostalgia for a narrow Modernist model of an art museum, abstracted and functioning as a means of separating art from society, as in the hugely influential ideological and institutional project of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. , which, while still potent, is now past its expiration date. Imma was never intended as this kind of museum, as simply the next iteration of a museum of “modernist” art or experience. In art or in ideology, modernism is only one way of being present in the world, and this modernist nostalgia, which still traps architecture a lot, represents a continuation of colonized thought. We can do better.
What Emma is and has been for over 30 years – rightly and inevitably due to its context in the Royal Hospital building and in the city – is a process of mapping and negotiating contemporary realities and d ‘exploration of answers to fundamental questions facing any publicly funded cultural institution. – why and for who ? Having capable, located, socially-oriented public institutions is all the more important in the face of the emergence of Trumpian neo-colonialism around the world. It is clear that Emma is doing what she must to fulfill her responsibilities as a publicly funded institution focused on creating public value.
But it is also clear, in a world of Covid, that a reaffirmation of where public value lies and how and where it is delivered must be a priority. – yours, etc.,