A question of taste - Niamh O’Sullivan

Des O’Driscoll meets Niamh O’Sullivan - a professor emeritus at NCAD and curator of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in the US.

Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger, an exhibition from the Great Hunger Museum Collection, curated by Niamh O’Sullivan, will open in the West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen on July 20 and continue until October 13.

She was brought up in Tramore, Co Waterford.

Best recent book you’ve read:

Linda Nochlin, just after she died, had published her final book, Misère: The Visual Representation of Misery in the 19th Century. Amazing to see one of the most influential art historians of all time focus on the visuality of the Irish Famine. I’m loving Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman’s heart-rending but hilarious novel about a lonely but mesmerisingly honest woman.

Best recent film:

The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s brilliant, dystopian film about childhood neglect and poverty.

Pick best recent gig or exhibition:

Nothing beats [legendary jazz club] The Village Vanguard in New York. Last time — freezing night in January — we all but had the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra play just to us. Also, the recent Hockney retrospective at the Met in New York, wonderful to see an artist as radical today as he was in the ‘60s.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

Passion, Power, and Politics, the soundtrack of the recent exhibition at the V&A in London which explores the relationship between politics, power and opera.

First ever pieces of music or gig that really moved you:

Leonard Cohen.

Favourite overseas gallery:

The stunning Museum of Islamic Art in, Doha, Qatar, designed by IM Pei, a magnificent and imaginative combination of traditional Islamic and modern architecture. Closer to home, the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France, with its unequalled collection of paintings by Courbet.

The best gig or exhibition you’ve ever seen (if you had to pick):

The Jazz Festival in Sete a few years ago, where Wynton Marsalis and his jazz orchestra escaped their usual smoky cellars and urban bars to play in an open air ampitheatre that opens on to the Med. As night fell, we were enraptured with the sound, as boats sailed behind the band out of sight,

Tell us about your TV viewing:

Mainly box sets. The Wire is still the best.

Radio listening and/or podcasts?

RTE Radio 1 and Lyric FM,

You’re curating your dream exhibition — which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

While Irish artists fled to London during the Famine, British artists like Anthony, Fripp and Topham, came to Ireland, initially in search of the primitive, but where they discovered desperately poor people of true humanity.

Your best celebrity encounter:

My husband is an old school friend of Bob Geldof (below). We were at his wedding to Jeanne Marine two years ago in the south of France. Full of celebs — from Sting to Bono to Demi Moore to Jerry Hall. Celebrity encounters linked to the Coming Home exhibition must include giving Ryan Tubridy — our greatest supporter — and his lovely mother a tour of the exhibition.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history — where, when, and why?

1950s New York to see Mark Rothko paint by day and hear Miles Davis play by night.

Do you have any interesting ancestors or family?

All interesting, but proud to be ordinary, in the best sense.

Unsung heroes:

The Irish Defence Forces’ peace keepers, who leave their homes and families, and selflessly put their lives in danger in the cause of world peace.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

Dignity for our immigrants today. Sadly, we don’t seem to have learnt enough for our experiences as emigrants in the 19th century.


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