The exhibition is spread around the city, but the bulk of it is hosted at Earlsfort Terrace, next to the National Concert Hall. Most people would not have visited this part of this massive building complex before, so, in addition to the exhibition, you also get an impression of the old premises of University College Dublin. Massive staircases of this neoclassical building dwarf the people inside. Their walls, painted cheerfully orange, strikingly contrast with the background of the artworks - the usual white or off-white, for sure, but also obvious signs of decay. The entropy is confusing, until the visitor realises that it perfectly matches the theme of the exhibition: Terrible Beauty - Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance.
The Yeats reference from 'Easter, 1916' brings together the poet's response to the turmoil of his own time and the commentary of the exhibited works of art with regard to the current societal, cultural and economical climate. As the theme and the exhibition space strongly hint, the view present in these works of art is not a happy one. The overwhelmingly prevalent colour scheme throughout the artworks is shades of grey, black and white, with only the occasional dot of bright colour, which even then can be deceptive, like in the case of the infrared photography of Richard Mosse, depicting armed rebels in the Congolese jungle in shades of bright fuchsia and red. In addition to the more usual issues of violence, environment and religion explored in the artworks, this time also questions surrounding the concept of money feature in the exhibition, unsurprisingly. I was a little disappointed with the reproductions of the crucifixion, in the religion department - I wouldn't necessarily call the notion of the artist martyred on the cross of his art particularly fresh.
Other personally memorable artworks were Nina Berman's photography series of the life of a badly burned American marine ("That's makeup, right?" I heard a young man ask - no, it's not) and Wang Du's The Cradle: a massive bedframe, with the mattress printed with the images of crumpled newspapers. Children and their parents happily bopped and reclined on the bed under a number of tv screens, apparently unaware that by doing so they perfectly proved the artist's point about today's ubiquitous information flow from all directions, with the audience either not caring or simply not being aware of it. Miks Mitrevics's installation concerning the presence and absence of the human subject also deserves a special mention, and was likely my favourite artwork of the whole exhibition.
I came out of the exhibition somewhat overwhelmed by the pessimism of the artworks, and at least in one case, physically nauseated by it. The exhibition provides little in the way of uplifting material, with the exception of Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly's interactive video installation Studio 1: Plus/Minus, which enabled observers become participants by creating patterns on the wall. This brought smiles on the viewers' faces and was perhaps a useful end point to the exhibition. The pessimism aside, which is hardly unexpected in the face of the world in 2011, the exhibition comes across as a very ambitious undertaking, which is successfully pulled off with a wide variety of high quality artworks from remarkable artists.
Dublin Contemporary continues until 31 October. Tickets: Adults €15, Children under 16 €6, Students/OAP/Unwaged €10