Artistic License: RHA’s Annual Exhibition

The ROYAL HIBERNIAN ACADEMY’s Annual Exhibition, now in its 188th year, is Ireland’s largest and longest running EXHIBITION OF VISUAL ART. Last year it attracted 48,000 visitors and generated vital funds for the gallery. Its director PATRICK T MURPHY tells us about this year’s entries …

Janet-Mullarney, ARHA, Confabulating sponge, 2018.

The RHA Annual Exhibition is a celebration of talent and creativity – what has struck you about this year’s exhibition?

The overall standard is just astounding; so much energy, talent, skill and quality. Also the demographic has shifted with many more artists under 35 submitting, successfully, through the open submission process.

Donald Teskey, RHA, Riverbank and Willow, 2018.

You’ve just completed the mammoth task of reviewing 2600 works down to 300 for this year’s entries. What criteria do you use in this selection process?

We have six artist members of the Academy selecting the work, three men and three women. So given that the average age is 50, that means there is 300 years of visual acuity around the table. It is an argumentative process as different members respond in different ways and they have to advocate for the work they see merit in … sometimes they win … sometimes they lose.

Alan Butler, NXG, IM WEEDS, 2018.

Are female artists well represented this year?

Of course, nearly half the show is made up of female artists, actually 47 per cent.

But that in itself doesn’t reflect the dominance of female artists in Irish art today, think of Dorothy Cross, Eilis O’Connell, Alice Maher, Vivienne Roche …

Alice Maher, RHA, The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice.

Can you tell us a little about Varnishing Day and the prize winners?

Traditonally Varnishing Day was when the painters came to add finishing highlights and varnish to their pieces and invited their frineds and family to see the work exhbitied for the first time. Not much has changed, though now, Varnishing Day is when we have the Friends of the RHA in to see the show together with the artists and their families. It’s the first preview of the exhibition. We also hold the Prize Giving on that day when the largest artistic prize find in Ireland, a prize fund of over €55,000 is awarded across 20 prizes to individual artists.

David Crone, RHA, Untitled, 2018.

What are some of your personal favourites – I know you will be leading a Director’s Tour later in June …

That’s like choosing between your kids! There are some amazing paintings by the likes of Richard Gorman, Blaise Smith, Diana Copperwhite, Colin Martin. Sculpture by Michael Quane and Jason Eillis and photography by Shane Lynam and David Farrell. But within the next two weeks, as I grow more familiar with the exhibition’s 600 works, there are always two or three works that end up surprising and enthralling me. 

Gabhann Dunne, Migrant, 2018.

In tandem with the exhibition, the gallery is running a series of talks. Your Lunchtime Talk is this week  – what will you be speaking about?

With such a large and diverse show it is impossible to give a coherent tour. I usually pick about five spots where I can stand and bring people’s attention to some of the strengths of the exhibition in the various mediums …

Kate Byrne, 221 cmyk Landachrome print.

Need to Know:

The RHA 188th Annual Exhibition runs until August 11; Patrick T Murphy’s Lunchtime Talk is on tomorrow, Thursday May 24, prior booking is not required. The Director’s Choice Tour of the 188th Exhibition is on June 20 at 11am and 6pm. If you have any questions about the lecture series, contact Kate McBride via email on;

Penny McCormick

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