Thursday 17 January 2019

Joe has an art attack

"It upsets me to see Anna Livia in that state," said a mournful Joe Duffy in Whose Art Is It Anyway?, a terrific documentary in which he explored our sometimes fractious relationship with the public art that lines -- although some would say litters -- the country's streets, parks, housing estates and motorway embankments.

The "Floozy in the Jacuzzi", as Eamonn Doherty's Anna Livia Plurabelle sculpture was immediately dubbed upon being installed on O'Connell Street in 1988, was looking in a pretty wretched condition all right: dismantled and lying on her side like a slumbering Saturday night drunk, having spent 11 years in a storage crate.

Joe fished under the old lady's skirts, so to speak, and recovered another relic of pre-Celtic Tiger Dublin: a McDonalds Chicken McNuggets box stamped "Best Before December 5, 1989".

I suspect Joe has a soft spot for the Floozy. So do I. I thought she was beautiful from the start, even if, in a certain light, she looked a bit like my grand aunt. Eamonn O'Doherty's feelings, however, are mixed.

While he was sorry to see her yanked out of O'Connell Street in 2000, she's far from his favourite work. He has created more than 40 pieces of public art worldwide and is fed up with the Floozy overshadowing everything else.

"Virtually the only one anyone has ever asked me about is the Floozy," he said. "This is the one that has dogged and pursued me. Sometimes I wish it would just go away and let me get on with my life."

But the Floozy is back, having been given a makeover by Eamonn and a permanent home in the Croppies Memorial Park near Collins Barracks. Whose Art Is It Anyway? captured her journey down the Liffey to her final destination, as Dubliners lined the Quays to have a look."Are you emotional?" Joe asked Eamonn as the Floozy was lowered into place.

"I wish I was," he said. "I'm just glad it's over with."

In time, I'm sure, Dubliners will come to regard Anna Livia (let's give the old girl a break and stop calling her a floozy) with the affection she's always deserved, although you probably can't say the same for some of the horrors Joe encountered on his journey through the good, the bad and the plain ugly of public artworks.

Every public capital building programme includes a clause allowing for 1pc of the total budget, up to a limit of €64,000, to be spent on public art. When the community involved is consulted, found Joe, the results can be dazzling.

In Cork's Mayfield area, a sculpture called Three Boys Playing Football, which was directly modelled on . . . well, three local boys playing football, is a treasured symbol of the community.

"All the children here, they think it was Roy Keane put it there," said one local, who regularly cleans the piece. The connection to Mayfield's most famous son, though non-existent, means the sculpture has remained graffiti-free.

In another area of the city, however, the local authority commissioned a sculptural monstrosity called Motorbike without even telling the residents what was about to be dropped into their laps. It's a hideous thing that, to the dismay of the local people, conjures up a negative image of the old days, when the community was notorious for young men parking their motorcycles in stairwells.

NCAD director Declan McGonagle is no fan of indulging artists' egos at the expense of public feelings: "If you're making it for yourself, leave it in the studio."

On a hill in a housing estate in Dundalk, Joe encountered artist Caroline McCarthy's lifesized bronze sculpture of a ragged old sofa. Rather imaginatively, it's called Sofa.

Joe was immediately reminded of the sofa the drug dealers sat on in The Wire. When a council official told him it's intended as a symbol of the community, Joe's face looked as deflated as an old cushion.

Whose Art Is It Anyway? HHHHI

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