Art: Art Under Attack


Throughout history, artworks have been vandalised for political and personal reasons.

Among the exhibits in Art Under Attack are chunks of Nelson’s Pillar, which was blown up in Dublin by a dissident republican group in March, 1966. The bombers felled Nelson without harming anyone, while the army unit sent in to demolish the stump of the pillar is said to have blown out every window on O’Connell Street. Public sculptures — particularly military memorials — continue to attract a great deal of ire. Perhaps more of them could be disposed of so effectively.

In Britain, many religious artworks were damaged or destroyed in the Reformation of the 16th century. The zeal with which the Protestant Reformers smashed stained-glass windows, ripped up prayer-books and vandalised statues is alarming. There remains a sense that they were terrified of how powerful art had become, and saw it as a challenge to God rather than a celebration of the spiritual. Among the exhibits here is a 16th century Statue of the Dead Christ that was badly damaged — it was burned, and lost an arm — and then buried for safe-keeping: it was finally unearthed in the Mercers’ Chapel in London in the 1950s.

Artworks were also attacked by the Suffragettes. On Mar 10, 1914, Mary Richardson took a blade to Velasquez’ Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery, to protest the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst. While Richardson’s action was regrettable — she slashed the canvas in several places — one can sympathise with her anger.

It was by no means the last attack on an artwork by feminists. Also included in the show is Allen Jones’ Chair (1969), which features a scantily dressed female mannequin whose bent legs support a cushion. It is, by any standards, a demeaning image of women, and it is hardly surprising that it was damaged, with paint stripper, by activists on International Women’s Day in 1986. It could be argued that this attack was a form of censorship, but surely the act was itself a powerful cultural statement?

Star Rating: 4/5

Theatre: Beyond the Brooklyn Sky

Everyman Theatre, Cork

Michael Hilliard Mulcahy’s new play suffers from two great weaknesses: there is both too much going on, and too little. As the play opens, in a community hall in a Kerry village by the sea, Jack (Jaimie Carswell) is about to land after flying a small plane solo across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, his old friend Brendy (Aidan Dooley) is preparing for a similar crossing, though he intends doing it by boat. Neither challenge is dealt with in enough depth to make it convincing.

Another buddy, the musician Greg (Malachy McKenna), is home from New York for a few days. His marriage has failed, and it is later revealed he is facing a great challenge of his own, one that relates to his health. Twenty years before, Greg, Brendy and another friend, Jimmy, had gone to New York together. Greg stayed, Brendy came home, and Jimmy has since gone AWOL, presumably lost to alcoholism. His father Jamsie (Vinnie McCabe) is also a character in the play, a sort of elder lemon, dispensing wisdom to the younger players.

Various love affairs are played out. Brendy is a drinker whose marriage to Josie (Una Kavanagh) is on the rocks. Greg and Mags (Sorcha Fox) rekindle an old romance, much to the amusement of Mags’ daughter Shannon (Roseanna Purcell), who is about to dump her boyfriend and emigrate to Australia.

The village hall facilitates the characters’ comings and goings, but it does lead one to wonder why such private concerns are dealt with in so public a setting.

In spite of the tough themes — alcoholism, infidelity, marriage breakdown — Mulcahy’s writing veers towards the sentimental. He also fails to round out his characters. We are shown Brendy’s weakness of character, but it is never satisfactorily explained. We are expected to sympathise with Josie leaving him, but the only thing he appears guilty of is loving her too much.

The accents are largely overdone. Brendy’s is so deeply Kerry as to be barely comprehensible at times. Jack’s Americanisms tend to grate, not least his advice to Brendy at the end, which doesn’t amount to much more than the suggestion he not sail the Atlantic solo.

Star Rating: 3/5

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