Penny McCormick speaks to MARY HEFFERNAN, curator of “ON A PEDESTAL“, an exhibition on the contemporary portrait bust at CASTLETOWN HOUSE …
Castletown House in Co Kildare is a wonderful example of Palladian-style architecture, which houses an important art collection. The Long Gallery in Castletown also features a large number of classical busts displayed on wall brackets and pedestals collected by the first owners of the house – Thomas and Lady Louisa Conolly – who were the inspiration behind this new exhibition.
Curated by Mary Heffernan, general manager at Castletown House and Dublin Castle, Hélène Bremer, Dutch art historian and curator, and Nuala Goodman, Milan-based Irish artist and curator, “On A Pedestal” has assembled a group of contemporary, international artists who explore the genre of the portrait bust in a variety of media from marble to ceramics. Mary Heffernan tells us more about the exhibition.
What was your starting point?
2018 is the 275th anniversary of the birth of Lady Louisa Conolly, the great heroine in the story of Castletown. The exhibition is a homage to Lady Louisa and the magical Long Gallery she created in this special European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.
Lady Louisa’s plans for the Long Gallery decorations started in the early 1770s. Her collection of busts was to reflect the lives of the great Greek and Roman poets and philosophers and the mythological Greek gods and goddesses including the Nine Muses. The selection of busts she assembled includes Homer, Venus, Hesiod, Plato, Cicero, Niobe, Sappho and Julius Caesar.
I had been reflecting on a strong theme to commemorate the 275th anniversary of Lady Louisa’s birth. I felt it was important that it was a contemporary response to the collections of Lady Louisa. The bust collection in the Long Gallery provided a catalyst for contemporary artists to respond to. Hélène, Nuala and I began a search for artists for whom the bust was a fundamental part of their practice. Works in the exhibition included countries France, Italy, UK, Netherlands, Ireland, USA, Japan and Norway.
How did all of the curators meet?
Nuala Goodman presented an Exhibition called “Gardens” at Farmleigh in 2012. Further projects emerged from this collaboration including “Meditation on Plate” at the Casino Marino. Hélène and I met at the Attingham Summer School for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections.
The exhibition was opened by Daniela Ferretti, director of the Fortuny Museum in Venice which was quite a coup …
Daniela Ferretti is a world leader in terms of her curatorship of profound exhibitions on contemporary art. She is custodian of the life and work of Mariano Fortuny. The links of Castletown with Italy are strong as the architect of the house was Italian. In this year of celebration of European Cultural heritage we have worked hard to invite international voices to participate in discussions on art making.
Do you have any favourite busts?
It’s so hard to choose, but Emily Young’s “Dark Forest Head” is one of the monumental works in the show and Gregory Grozos’ “Undiscovered” is the smallest most delicate piece in the show.
Need to Know: “On a Pedestal” runs until August 31 at Castletown House, Celbridge, Co Kildare; www.castletown.ie.
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