Celebratory exhibition shows off jewels of the Butler Gallery's crown

OVER the past 70 years a serious body of art has been amassed by the Butler Gallery at Kilkenny Castle.

The gallery is currently showing a celebratory exhibition of work from its collection, including pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Barrie Cooke, Evie Hone, May Guinness and local sculptor Paul Mosse.

Anna O’Sullivan, director of the gallery, curates the show. “This current exhibition has a contemporary feel to it,” says O’Sullivan. “We have a collection show every year or two years. We have shown so many different aspects of the work — landscapes or seascapes or portraits and whatnot. This time round we just wanted to show the contemporary view of the collection as it stands right now and some of the acquisitions we have acquired over the last nine years.

“While we include some of the favourites, the show does aim to have a contemporary edge to it to reflect the ever evolving nature of the collection and the fact that it’s growing.”

New purchases such as a painting by Bob and Roberta Smith and photographs by Jackie Nickerson sit alongside work held in the collection for many years. A sparse hang places the work in an up-to-date context.

“A policy in the collection has always been about exhibiting our owned works and our long term loans and gifts,” says O’Sullivan. “I have made a loan to the gallery of a group of works by Louise Bourgeois, who I worked with in New York when I lived and worked there for 23 years prior to my coming back to Ireland. This suite of prints by Bourgeois is shown in the collection for the first time, and it’s been wonderful to share them with a wider audience.”

O’Sullivan oversaw the process of the collection, which contains approximately 465 works, gaining museum accreditation from the Heritage Council in 2008. She says she had the opportunity to view each piece and found a rich archive of correspondence associated with the works. The letters and memorabilia are also being archived and provide an insight as to how the collection took shape over the years.

“I’m really in awe and admiration of the people that had the fortitude to put the collection together,” she says. “Since the gallery came about in the 1940s they were all pretty much voluntary committees. They brought international artists here, and were all very astute at buying, getting loans or getting long term loans or gifts to the collection.

“While it’s quite eclectic and it’s mostly Irish in its nature, it does have international work as well. It’s an amazing collection that was really put together on very little money, just mostly enthusiasm — by people with a good eye and a wish to develop a permanent collection here in Kilkenny for people to view.”

Building a new museum will be realised over the next few years on the site of the Evans Home, an eight-shaped alms house in Kilkenny City.

Finally all activities of the Butler Gallery and collection will be under the same roof: the exhibition spaces, quality storage for the collection, and the education and community outreach programme. There is also a wing dedicated to the work of Tony O’Malley, a Kilkenny man, based on the promise of a major gift from his estate.

* Runs until Mar 2.


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