Nurturing talent of tomorrow

The Lavit Gallery is celebrating 50 years of promoting the visual arts, says Tina O’Sullivan

THE Lavit Gallery, established in conjunction with Cork Arts Society, celebrates its first half century in Cork tomorrow.

The Lavit Gallery is one of the few commercial galleries in Cork to have survived the economic downturn. Its original premises on 16 Lavit’s Quay was patronised by Thomas Crosbie Holdings. Mary Dwyer, a daughter of Tom Crosbie, was an original committee member and secured the top two floors of the building for the Cork Arts Society. The move across town to its current location on Father Mathew St in 1995 changed the demands on financial resources. While the gallery operates in a “not for profit” capacity, it now has to meet rates, bills and wages bills, although some of the workforce is sponsored by FÁS and there is also continued private sponsorship. The gallery also holds many fundraising exhibitions.

The Lavit’s survival can largely be attributed to the determination of its board. “Why do we do it?” asks Joe Burns, the chairman of Cork Arts Society. “Because otherwise there would be very few outlets in Cork for visual artists to sell their work. And the board of directors and indeed all the members of the society are very committed that visual artists in Cork should be supported.

“The Lavit was started by a group of people who thought there was a need for a society in Cork to support on a broad scale the visual arts. They have supported all aspects of visual arts, from what we might call fine art, painting and drawing down into sculpture, down into ceramics, down into craft work, silver and gold, and photography.”

Tomorrow’s celebration, 50 years to the day since the inaugural meeting to found the gallery, will be marked by the opening of the exhibition, The Lavit Gallery, 50 Years On, by Robert Ballagh. The exhibition features some of the best-known artists who have shown at the Lavit, including John Behan, Liam Belton, Ana Duncan, Mike Fitzharris, Eilis O’Connell, Michael Quane, Thomas Ryan and Neil Shawcross.

Rev D O’Sullivan SJ, then director of the Arts Council, addressed that first meeting in 1963, encouraging the promotion of arts to everybody and urging those present to work against the highbrow connotations of the sector.

The Lavit has taken his advice to heart, showing a broad range of art disciplines by practitioners in Cork city and county and far beyond. The gallery has a long history of inviting established artists to exhibit. A glimpse at the roll-call throws up the names of international artists such as Josef Albers, Eduardo Chillida, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Bridget Riley and David Hockney.

At the other end of the spectrum, the gallery also nurtures new talents and emerging artists. Each year the ‘Student of the Year Award’ is bestowed on one or more CIT Crawford College of Art and Design graduates. Many of these have gone on to realise fruitful careers in the arts. Sculptor John Burke was the earliest recipient in 1967, and Eilis O’Connell, Vivienne Roche, Maud Cotter and Alex Pentek were also prizewinners. Other graduate students showing promise are annually selected for a group exhibition called Fledglings which supports their transition from study to the workplace.

The Lavit Gallery has several exhibition staples in its calendar. CASe, the Cork Arts Society exhibition, is an invited group show featuring some of the most sought after contemporary Irish artists. An artist known to the gallery is invited each year to curate an exhibition and include their own work with the invited artists. The gallery also has an annual selected members exhibition and spring, summer and Christmas Shows.

In the coming year the gallery will collaborate with The Taylor Gallery and Solomon Galleries in Dublin and the Cauldwell Gallery in Belfast to stage the exhibition Gallery Friends. There is a long tradition of welcoming exhibitions from other galleries and putting on exhibitions off-site. Later this year, The Absence of Realism will feature a collection of non-representational work.

One of Joe Burns’ highlights was a exhibition of gold and silver by the now defunct Kilkenny Design Workshops. “The country needs a nucleus of people working in design to an excellent standard,” he says. “And that’s what Kilkenny Design Workshops did. It’s still needed because design does not stand still.

“If you go back to what Fr. O’Sullivan said initially, he said art wasn’t for highbrows. The knife you use, the plate you use, it’s only costing you e2 but it’s all design and it should be perfect. And there’s no reason it can’t be perfect. The more we become aware of visual activity in our society, the better our design will be — and has been. We’ve tremendous design in this country. Every thing we do in our daily lives, inside your house, outside your house, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, what you put on the table, how you put things on the table; there’s a visual aspect to it, it might be subconscious to you but it’s there.”

*The Lavit 50 Years On runs until Mar 16.

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