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Dublin: 17 °C Saturday 21 September, 2019
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'What was Zeus playing at?': A tour with a difference is hoping to get more people into art

It’s part of a new arts festival taking place in Dublin next week.

File photo of an exhibition in the National Gallery.
File photo of an exhibition in the National Gallery.
Image: Pimlico Project

HAVE YOU EVER wondered what the subject of a famous artwork was thinking?

What’s on the mind of Mona Lisa, the Girl with a Pearl Earring, or Zeus? If so, you might get an answer to one of those questions next week.

An art tour with a difference is taking place at the National Gallery – a guide will lead a tour of some of the gallery’s most famous works, while a comedy duo adds their own take on in the art in question.

Aoife-Marie Buckley has delivered many tours in the gallery, catering for school children, college students, and parents with babies to name a few groups. Next week’s tour will be the first she’s done with this kind of comedic element, however.

“There are many types of tours – school tours, everything from montessori to college tours – a wide range. There are general tours and tours around a specific artist or exhibition.

“There are also tours for visually-impaired groups and tours done in a low-sensory environment so people can enjoy a part of gallery that is closed off, with the lights dimmed,” Buckley explains.

She said the artwork that gets the biggest reaction in the gallery is Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ – an imposing and striking painting that documents Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss.

“Irish people love stories – people of all ages, especially school children, love stories. They love hearing the story of [the painting] – about it being rediscovered in Ireland (at a Jesuit community house in Dublin in 1990, having disappeared long before),” Buckley told TheJournal.ie.

The gallery runs a number of initiatives that aim to encourage people who may not usually visit art galleries to attend. Renailssance, workshops and an exhibition combining art and nail art, has been very popular of late, for example.

“There is something in the gallery for everyone – many types of paintings from a whole variety of countries and cultures and ages. I think there is something there for everyone there.

“All of the things the education department offers, they do that because they want people to come in. It is the National Gallery of Ireland, it’s there for everyone,” Buckley said.

Canaletto In Convo 13.12 (2) Aoife-Marie Buckley giving a tour at the gallery. Source: National Gallery

The comedy tour is another attempt to appeal to a new audience and sees the gallery teaming up with Frayed – Dublin’s new free fringe festival, which is also aiming to make the arts more accessible.

Buckley notes that while there have been dramatic reenactments of certain paintings in the gallery before, this is the first time there has been a comedic take.

“I am looking forward to it a lot, seeing someone else’s interpretation of the artwork,” she said.

During the tour, Buckley will share the history of some classic artworks, and improv/sketch duo Underthings will then give their own take. Denny Mac Dermott, one half of Underthings, said the tour will feature both well-known pieces and some hidden gems from the gallery.

“We’ll obviously be looking at Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid by Vermeer because it’s hard to ignore that kind of beauty – and then make silly comedy about it, but we’ll also be seeing slightly less feted pieces like Venus and Cupid by Tosini, a painting that is, quite frankly, strange. But absolutely perfect for this tour,” Mac Dermott told us.

National Gallery of Ireland Visitors Photo Courtesy Pimlico Project (4) File photo of an exhibition in the National Gallery. Source: Pimlico Project

She said the artworks that will feature in the tour were chosen because “some of them are strange, some are very beautiful, but most of the paintings we have chosen are about people in odd or ambiguous situations – our personal wheelhouse”.

One question they will attempt to answer is indeed, ‘What did Zeus think he was playing at?’ Mac Dermott said Zeus, like Jupiter, “was an extremely terrible brother-husband and we hope to explore that”.

“Fingers crossed we’re not too late and a very angry women’s co-operative can be started on Mount Olympus.”

‘Marry the familiar with the strange’ 

Mac Dermott said the goal of combining art forms, such as classical art and comedy in this instance, is to engage people. 

For me art is about finding a new or illuminating way to look at life and using an alternate discipline as a lens to examine someone else’s art form (or your own) is an excellent way to achieve that. In our case if some gentle teasing of high culture actually engages people then that’s great; good art can defend itself.

Combining different types of performance art is one of the goals of Frayed – Dublin’s free fringe festival, which the tour is part of.  

Rick Doody, a co-founder of Frayed, said the festival was set up to highlight the quality of, and raise the profile of, performing arts in Dublin.

Dublin has a great performance art scene and we wanted to expose that to more people, through free shows and access programmes with people who might not normally be engaged by art.

He said the quality of the arts in Dublin is “excellent, but the audience for art could be bigger”.

Free shows will be running as part of the festival across various venues in Dublin city from tomorrow until Thursday.

Most of the events combine different types of performance, such as drama and comedy – something Doody said the festival’s organisers, a team of volunteers, is “really excited about”.

69199455_522312215202103_4323664291786915840_o Source: Underthings

“To those on the outside, art can seem like something only for the initiated. Art intimidates many people. We think art should be challenging but also inviting,” he said.

Doody told us that in order to give non-traditional audiences “a way into” the arts, the festival’s plan is to “marry the familiar with the strange”, adding: “We want Frayed to be a gateway into the arts for those who would normally be afraid to go to a live art show.”

Another element of the festival involves outreach work such as stand-up comedy workshops with communities who may not normally get the chance to participate in such programmes.

“We know that one way to get people more involved is through participation, doing something is a great way of getting to know and enjoy it. We’ve run stand-up comedy workshops with individuals who wouldn’t normally get access to that kind of training,” Doody explained.

He said the festival is hoping to roll out a larger programme of workshops in the coming year “to give people access to a spectrum of different art forms”.

More information can be read here

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Órla Ryan

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