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2023 in art: The 10 best exhibitions of the year

Money, women and power wove the threads of the year

From sprawling survey shows to anniversaries and more focused explorations, 2023 was also notable for a strong series of exhibitions dedicated to women artists. That said, the success of Andy Warhol Three Times Out, at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, proves there’s an enduring attraction to the man who foresaw the parcelling out of fame in 15-minute chunks. It can be tempting to dismiss Warhol’s work when seen in reproduction, or separated from context, as opportunistic gimmickry, and there is a hint of that here and there.

For the most part, the cumulative effect of the exhibition (which continues until Sunday, January 28th) comes something close to what it must have been like when these bright, brash, iconoclastic and sometimes even sensitive works first burst on to the world’s stage. Money, too, is a lurking presence. Despite also profiting from it, Warhol ably demonstrated art’s uneasy relationship with the world of filthy lucre.

Here are our 10 favourite art exhibitions and events of 2023.

Dublin Gallery Weekend

November 10th-12th, 2023

Aiming to add, if not filthy lucre, then a little more art collectors’ cash to the system, the inaugural Dublin Gallery Weekend was a success. Shining a light on the galleries that between then represent more than 250 artists, it included family sessions, walking tours, brunches, talks, late openings and discussions. The 10 members of the Contemporary Art Gallery Association plan to make it an annual event. With exhibitions by Richard Gorman, Laurence Riddell, Scott Lyall and Eilís O’Connell, among others, the extended weekend was a timely reminder of the wealth of work on show, for free, all year round.

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John Gerrard – U2: UV Achtung Baby Live

At the Sphere, Las Vegas, until March 2nd, 2024

Money is definitely on stage and on set with U2’s inaugural residency at the Sphere, Las Vegas’s new landmark. But how many of the 20,000-strong crowds recognise the work of the Tipperary-born artist John Gerrard in one of the show’s most iconic sequences? His lone flag wafts digital smoke across the epic backdrop as his computer-generated sunset turns it, and the sky, a dusky pink. Visitors to Galway International Arts Festival in 2022 will recognise a version from his Flare (Oceania) at the Docks, while collectors snapped up a major release in June by his New York Gallery, Pace, of 195 NFTs based on the flags of UN members set in “future deserts”.

EVA International

Limerick, August 31st-October 29th, 2023

The Polish curator Sebastian Cichocki did the honours at the first EVA since Covid, and used the canvas of the entire city of Limerick to explore themes relating to citizenship. While some of it felt like an extended immersion into recent histories of art activism, it was a highly rewarding affair taken as a whole. Cichocki’s vision emphasised the idea of “gleaning” – as in gathering and sharing the fruits, literal and metaphorical, of the earth – and brought together artists from Ireland to Poland, Bangladesh to Ukraine. Goshka Macuga’s tapestry at Limerick City Gallery was a standout, as were Kian Benson Bailes fabric sculptures at St Mary’s Cathedral. EVA may be over, but Navine Dossos’s mural takeover of the Grove Cafe remains in place – as does its excellent coffee.

Following Threads

Crawford Gallery, Cork, until January 28th, 2024

Another stop-you-in-your-tracks tapestry work at EVA was Rachel Fallon and Alice Maher’s epic textile The Map, from 2021 – textile and fabric works have really come to the fore as a form. Following Threads spotlights what should not be dismissed as an art trend but instead be seen as a medium finally given a chance to shine. Including work by Isabel Nolan, Matt Smith, Ciara O’Connor, Cecilia Danell, Mainie Jellett/Ceodogàn rugs, Dorothy Cross, Michelle Malone, Jennifer Trouton, Anne Kiely, Mary Palmer and Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, the exhibition weaves a persuasive path. Previously best known for her video works, Ní Bhriain also has one of the year’s standout solo shows at Kerlin, in Dublin, with Interval Two (Dream Pool); including three huge tapestries, it runs until Saturday, January 6th, 2024. In September 2024 she will also be showing at Lismore Castle Arts, at St Carthage Hall.

Liz Magor: The Rise and Fall

Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, July 14th-September 24th, 2023

Textiles featured but were not the main point of the Canadian artist Liz Magor’s installation at the Douglas Hyde. Cuddly toys, abandoned gloves, old coats and sweet wrappers are presented under plastic or hanging in space. There’s always something haunting about things that have become separated from their stories, but given the current pervasive displacement of people from their homes and even their countries, Magor’s work takes on a deeper dimension, in a manner that poignantly recalls the work of the late Christian Boltanski, whose own Lost Property exhibition was installed at the Douglas Hyde almost 30 years ago, in 1994.

Anita Groener: To the Edge of Your World

Irish Cultural Centre, Paris, April 7th-June 4th, 2023

Displacement also echoes across Anita Groener’s installation at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris. Her delicate sculptures, made from twigs, twine and card, are an echo in miniature of The Past Is a Foreign Country, her 2018 piece, in which 20 uprooted birch trees made a maze trapping tiny travellers at the Lab Gallery. At CCI, twigs made cradles, or perhaps they were cages and holding cells, running the length of the gallery; while a central table saw more tiny pieces of tree that were either war-shattered settlements or obstacles in the path of the escaping displaced.

Royal Hibernian Academy bicentenary

In the 200 years since the RHA was granted its charter, it has been burned down, built up, roundly criticised and soundly praised, teetered on the brink of collapse and re-emerged as an arts powerhouse. During that time it took 100 years to welcome a female member, Sarah Purser, and another 100 to elect a woman president, the incumbent, Abigail O’Brien. Marking these milestones, and alongside the Annual Exhibition in May, the RHA joined forces with the National Gallery of Ireland in July for It Took a Century, an exhibition at the NGI looking at the work of some of the women who have shaped, and are shaping, the course of art in Ireland. Cristín Leach’s book From Ten Till Dusk, commissioned by the RHA, presents another prism through which to explore the stories of 200 arty years.

Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker

National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, May 6th-August 27th, 2023

Proving, if proof were needed, that history is not absolute, National Gallery curator Aoife Brady gained global attention for her exhibition on Lavina Fontana. The hitherto largely forgotten late-16th-century Bolognese artist was hugely successful in her lifetime, supporting her family through artistic commissions. Her work ranges from history paintings to altar pieces, portraits to nudes. Some commentators got their knickers in a twist about whether she actually painted those nudes from life. But seriously? Every woman has a female life model to draw from. All they need is a mirror.

Na Cailleacha with Reference to Paula Rego

The Dock, Leitrim, April 29th-July 1st, 2023

If women are diminished in the writing of history, older women are often rendered invisible to the point of nonexistence. All of the members of Na Cailleacha (except one) are over 70, and the group’s show at the Dock demonstrated that excluding such voices amounts to a greater loss than we might realise. Power, sexuality, rage, wit and wisdom are all present in the work of Helen Comerford, Barbara Freeman, Patricia Hurl, Rachel Parry, Therry Rudin, Gerda Teljeur, Catherine Marshall and Carole Nelson.

Patricia Hurl: Irish Gothic

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, February 10th-May 21st, 2023

The Na Cailleacha member Patricia Hurl was the focus of a timely retrospective at Imma. Her extraordinary paintings draw on art history, mythology and the erasure of presence. Coupled with stories of power and its misuse, they also hint at the casual savageries that once (and still unfortunately do) underpin domestic life. The exhibition has since been on tour, and will be at South Tipperary Arts Centre from May 11th to June 22nd, 2024.