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National Gallery 'regrets' removal of portraits but says Direct Provision operator will still run cafe

Artists claim Direct Provision operators ‘have no place in our National Gallery.’

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE NATIONAL GALLERY of Ireland remains committed to a Direct Provision operator running its cafe despite two artists pulling their work from its walls in protest at the move. 

Brian Teeling and Emma Roche, two artists shortlisted for the Zurich Portrait Prize, asked the gallery to withdraw their work in recent days over the development.

The Journal first reported last week that a number of staff at the gallery had written to its board expressing disappointment at a decision to award the operator of three Direct Provision centres, Aramark, the NGI’s catering contract.

Gallery staff wrote a letter to the gallery’s board in early February warning that the presence of Aramark would “cause irreparable reputational damage”.

Roche and Teeling, alongside two other artists exhibiting in the Zurich prize, wrote to NGI management last Friday in support of staff who had written the letter.

The letter described Direct Provision as “the greatest failing of our government” and argued that “those who profit from it and support it should have no place in our National Gallery”.

“It is unacceptable, deeply saddening and undermines the great work you have done as an institution,” the artists said.

asdasdasf Part of the letter shared by Emma Roche from the artists to gallery management Source: Instagram @emmaroche83

The gallery responded last Friday and explained that it is “bound by Irish and EU procurement law” when awarding contracts and that Aramark “scored the highest” during the procurement process.

However, Roche said a statement from NGI that “we hope that we will see you at the Gallery again in the future” prompted her to request that her work be removed from exhibition.

“It felt like there was no room for negotiation, it felt very final so I didn’t feel like I had much choice,” the Wexford-based artist said. 

She told The Journal that although artists spend “their life trying to get on the gallery wall”, she isn’t concerned about how taking her work down could affect her future career.

“If there was any kind of person in power who wouldn’t work to work with me because of this, then the feeling is mutual,” she said.

Brian Teeling acknowledged that as an emerging artist, it is “a big deal” to remove his work. But he also said that showing solidarity with people in Direct Provision “is more important” to him.

Emails seen by The Journal also show that Teeling cancelled his appearance at a gallery event.

He called the award of contract to Aramark “completely disrespectful to the recent work by staff at the gallery who were engaging with people who have experienced Direct Provision”.

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His portrait ‘Declan Flynn in Dublin’ was removed at his request and replaced by a portrait of President Micheal D Higgins.

In a statement, the National Gallery of Ireland told The Journal that it “respects the wishes of individual artists, but regrets the changes to display”.

In a public statement released today, the gallery repeated parts of its response to the artist’s original letter last week, saying it was “satisfied the [tender] evaluation process was run correctly”.

A spokesperson from Aramark described Direct Provision policy as a “matter for government”, but said the company “is proud of our work” and that it provides “the highest level of service to those living in the accommodation centres we operate”.

The Journal understands that some gallery staff are “disappointed” that the gallery did not reject the tender and that the issue ‘come this far”.

A protest outside the front gates of the gallery to protest the Aramark contract is being organised for this Friday, 25 February at 6pm by End Direct Provision Action Group.

As of publication a petition titled ‘Get Aramark out of National Gallery Ireland’ has 1,300 signatures.

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