IT’S HARD TO believe that 80% of The National Gallery of Ireland has been closed for six years, during the extensive, hand-wringing, extremely delicate refurbishment documented in last Tuesday’s enlightening and delightful documentary on RTE 1, Portrait of a Gallery. For years the main two wings; Dargen and Milltown have been the bane of various directors’ lives; leaky, tired and hiding treasures behind plastered walls that no one knew were there. Finally, in 2012 the drastic, and ultimately brilliant decision was made to close the two wings leaving only The Millenium Wing and ten rooms open to the sometimes grumbling public, but as ably and beautifully shown in the documentary the blood, sweat, tears and tantrums that were poured and shed behind the scenes were ultimately worth it.
Despite frequent visitors’ moans about missing the old rooms and entrance, the curation and management staff have done a wonderful marketing job in keeping visitors coming to the remaining rooms open during the renovation, largely by hosting very well received temporary exhibitions (among them the finalists for the Hennessy Portrait Prize); current director with the best name in the biz Sean Rainbird proud to say that visitation has been up by 100,000 in a year by the time the crew began its documenting, 3 years into the project. But the goal is to half a world class gallery capable of displaying its 700 pieces, and through painstaking planning and many, many delays that’s what they did, with the Gallery re-opening its doors to the public just last month.
Rainbird is happy (for the Gallery and its accountants) to announce that while permanent collections will be free to view, temporary exhibitions will now be subject to a fee. You can see why; the expense in transporting and setting up quality exhibitions is immense, and now you’ll really be getting what you pay for with the collections on display in such sumptuous surroundings. It’s revealed in the documentary that plastered walls were covering up huge windows looking out into a small courtyard dividing the two wings, and it was lovely to see the enchantment the burgeoning space cast over the team of curators given a tour mid-refurbishment. Their eyes lit up as they imagined where their precious artworks would stand or hang, and various asides gave insight into these experts passion for their work and well explained pertinacity over the importance of it.
In addition to seeing the fascinating work of conservationists in action, including the eye-wateringly intense restoration of a Monet painting cruelly vandalised in 2012, the programme followed the decision making of the management and architecture team, and the meticulous work carried out by the contractors, led by site manager John Francis. The setting was truly a place to put their work into relief; their work is an art in itself, as shown by the unfailing attention to detail, particularly in the re-instating of heavy wooden doors created by the master Carlo Cambi. An ideal time to show a captivating insight into the working of our national gallery, it captured beautifully in the documentary. I will be taking the time to pay a visit the next time I’m in Dublin and I encourage you to do so too.
AS A RELUCANT learner driver, I’m keen to find out more about driverless cars so last Thursday’s BBC Horizon programme about the subject came at just the right time. Typical for a Horizon documentary Dawn of the Driverless cars was an entertaining, well researched, well scripted show with auto experts akimbo on hand. From the F1 engineer tasked with trying out a Level 5 automated car, sceptical auto journalists, curious professors and enthusiastic scientists, each was equally as passionate as the next about their predictions for the future of the auto trade.
Initial all round enthusiasm for the concept of driverless cars has given way to some caution; while the positives could well include less traffic and congestion, fewer accidents, a vast reduction in pollution, particularly if the car is also fully electric and can be charged while you sleep, there are also warnings that they may actually contribute to more congestion, as they are sent to do a few rounds of the block while their charge is off doing their shopping, the co-existence between driven and driverless cars is likely to prove rocky, and of course many jobs will be lost (including doctors, as a result of fewer injuries from car accidents!). The general consensus though, that all the boffins on each side of the fence can agree on, is that like it or not driverless cars are on their way.
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 5th July 2017