Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Art Market Blues

Dire results at de Vere's auction in the D4 hotel last night - the first major art auction of the new season. The attendance was significantly smaller than usual. There was a reasonable number of good quality pictures with the estimates set noticeably lower than last year and yet nearly a third of the works didn't sell. It didn't help that usually ebullient john de Vere looked tired and shook and handed over half way through to his featureless factotum Rory Guthrie. Most pieces that did sell barely made their lower estimates. The usual suspects such as Teskey, Shinnors and Dan O'Neill did reasonably well - although a modestly priced O'Neill landscape didn't go. A large epic Paddy Collins of Yeats crawled to €29K while his other work didn't sell. Camille Souter remains popular and an airy fairy George Russell was one of the few works to surpass its higher estimate. Of the sculptors Rowan Gillespie did best. All in all a dispiriting indication that the art market is going the way of the property market. A rough estimate suggests that these works have halved in value over the past four years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Death of a Salesman at the Gate

This play has aged well. The sign of a classic. Despite being tired and wet I was instantly drawn into the downward spiral of Willy Loman's life. What a powerful pleasure good theatre is. There was a great cast: Gate regulars such as Stephen Brennan, Barry McGovern and John Kavanagh, augmented by some smart newcomers (Garrett Lombard and Rory Nolan), and the star turn Harris Yulin as Willy. You'd know his face from numerous films and TV programmes.

The spare set worked well and what Joyce Carol Oates described as the "eerie dream-like melding of past and present" was carried out smoothly and convincingly. And how apposite the play is for our times - Miller's critique of capitalist amorality (immorality?) still holds good. A reference to bankers and jail brought a knowing laugh from the audience.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Banville on J G Farrell

Attended the symposium on J G Farrell at the Dun Laoghaire Mountains to Sea book festival last weekend. It was chaired by Lavinia Greacen - his biographer and all-around good egg, in a West-Brit gushing enthusiast kind of way. Although she is clearly a Farrell fan, her biography did include the warts, noting his emotional detachment and utilitarian attitude towards women. The panel included Greacen, John Banville, the nervy Rachel Cooke (the Observer writer), and a big amiable historical fiction writer whose name I have forgotten.

The sardonic and world-weary Banville was quick to prick the general veneration - attacking on two fronts. He described Farrell as "guarded and sinister with a creepy elegance." His major work Troubles he reckoned was too "finished and controlled" - whereas great novels should be "loose baggy monsters". Not a description that could be applied to much of Banville's oeuvre. He did praise Farrell as being "completely amoral" in his work - the "first requisite of the artist". He concluded by opining that he had died at the right time. His last novel, The Singapore Grip, suggested that he was waning as an artist. He lacked the engagement or passion to take things to another level. His letters and diaries were never ecstatic or despairing - he was always on an even keel. There were no wells from which to dredge material. Rachel Cooke hardly agreed suggesting that his work was "suffused with melancholy". She also took umbrage at Banville's playful suggestion that he might have improved as an artist if he had married a shop girl and the real world had intruded more. Well that certainly worked for Joyce.

Friday, September 10, 2010


That was a pleasant surprise and what a great match. After giving up on the Tipp team as a skillful but spineless lot after the Cork match they confound me by hammering one of the greatest teams in the history of hurling. Albeit a team that seems now to be over the hill - two retirements since the final confirm this. What worried me about the Cork match wasn't the defeat - few teams win at Pairc Ui Chaoimh - it was the lack of response by Tipp to Cork's onslaught. It seems they lacked leadership and intestinal fortitude. But as the season progressed they turned they changed this perception. There were Pyrrhic victories over Wexford and Offaly and then they were really tested by Galway. They gave away a couple of soft goals and found themselves 2 points down with a couple of minutes to go. But they didn't panic and picked off a couple of points before Lar Corbett hit a superb winner in the last few seconds. The Waterford match was an anti-climax - Tipp were in control throughout and were particularly impressive defensively - with Paraic Maher superb.

Kilkenny had their 5 in a row and injury distractions but they seemed strangely subdued for much of the final - creating very little up front. Mind you this was the best defensive performance I have ever seen by a Tipp team - they were tireless and harried Kilkenny in packs. It must be hard to recreate the intensity required to win an All Ireland year after year. Tipp were younger and hungrier and the had learnt some of the dark arts from their clash with Kilkenny last year. Also, they kept the ball away for that force of nature Tommy Walsh. Brendan Maher epitomised all that was best - bursting forward from mid-field and launching the boys up front, while Kelly was clinical from the frees and Corbett applied the finishing touches.

One worrying aspect of the whole business was how even Cork fans were behind Tipp - a patronising situation that we need to sort out. This team is young enough to win 3 or 4 more in the next 5 or 6 years - that should do it

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Redemption of Benny Dunne

For the stifled impulse there is no redemption according to the Bard of Baggot Street. You could argue that there is frequently no redemption for the unstifled impulse either. When Benny Dunne tried to decapitate the niggling Tommy Walsh in last year's All Ireland Hurling Final he got himself sent off and this tipped the scales back in favour of Kilkenny. Forget about the dubious penalty, forget about the missed goals, it was this incident that gave Kilkenny the lift they needed at a time when Tipp had them buried. I blamed Dunne. In forty years time when he's nursing a pint in the corner of a pub in Toomevara the thought that he was responsible for Tipp losing an All-Ireland they should have won will still be tormenting him. However last Sunday Sheedy had the tact and grace to send him on for the last few minutes and in that time he scored a point and was on the pitch to savour Tipp's unexpected triumph. Partial redemption at least I'd say.

Strange Experience in Lucca

My hotel in the centre of Lucca had offered a parking option but when I drove into the old walled town it quickly became clear that getting there was way beyond the abilities of my GPS. The tiny narrow streets are all pedestrianised and I was like Theseus in the labyrinth without an Ariadne in sight. I parked the car on the outskirts and walked to the hotel. The young guy at the desk produced a tiny map and marked a route for me so I returned to the car to give it a shot. Within seconds I was lost again, edging around corners into cul de sacs, negotiating my way around bemused pedestrian, and generally becoming hot, bothered and increasingly desperate. Then a portly middle-aged man on a scooter suddenly appeared in front of me and gestured me to follow him. I had no idea who he was or why I should follow him but being desperate I did so. He weaved his way around 4 or 5 corners with me in pursuit and then stopped and pointed to the little cul de sac where my hotel lay hidden - and rode off without a word.