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First published in 1605, with the second installment appearing in 1610, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote is widely considered to be the most influential text of the Spanish Golden Age, and an institution in the Western literary canon. Alonso Quixano’s idealistic quest to revive chivalry in an age of moral destitution has been influential for artists throughout the ages, literary and visual alike. From Alexandre Dumas, to Picasso and more recently Salman Rushdie, the enduring resilience of the individual, often through devastating acts, has been a lens by which artists have considered their contemporary environments.
Drawing on Don Quixote, a group show curated by Dublin based gallerist Olivier Cornet, considers this rich thematic palette in regards to the current cultural and political climate. First appearing in the Wexford Opera House in October 2019, then moving on to VUE Art Fair in November, this exhibition is currently on display in Cornet’s Gallery, 3 Great Denmark Street, from 19 January – 29 February.
New work by the gallery’s represented and project artists consider the notion of a quest for truth in an era of “fake news” and re-emerging populism. Aidan Dunne has previously pointed to Cornet’s ability to provoke nuanced responses from exhibited artists without disrupting their individual practices. Indeed, the diversity of fine art practices represented by this exhibition makes for an engaging and surprising visit. Sharp-witted and visually stunning pieces supply commentary on various aspects of the human condition, from Miriam McConnon and Nickie Hayden’s evocations of the feminine mystique through the character of Dulcinea (Quixote’s prostitute-turned-paragon) to Yanny Petter’s botanical monotypes of healing vegetation, mentioned in the text, which question humanity’s contemporary relationship to the environment.
Woodwork pieces by Hugh Cummins contain within fine craftsmanship reflections on the current relevance of chivalric values to our everyday needs whilst Swedish-born Annika Berglund’s stoneware pieces explore the nature of Quixano and Sancho Panza’s relationship, a dynamic which occasions somewhat comic images of our domestic politicians, especially in this fervid General Election.
Claire Halpin’s ambient oil on gesso landscape of Gaza in May 2018 explores the much vexed question of American-Israeli relations. Halpin’s juxtaposition of a chuppah (canopy involved in Jewish wedding ceremonies symbolising the divine security of the institution of marriage) within a barbed wired landscape evokes a sinister view of reemerging populism.
Irish painter Eoin Mac Lochlainn’s striking watercolour portraits of activists Brother Kevin Crowley and Greta Thunberg places recognisable faces on these themes and seem to assert the power of the individual’s voice in inspiring change.
Olivier Cornet and his artists have managed to avoid cynicism whilst provoking critical thought on the moral reality of our cultural sphere, and humanity’s susceptibility to polarised value systems. I would urge anybody to drop into this space, a short walk from the Hugh Lane, to consider the fluctuation of these perennial themes in our collective imagination.
3 February 2020
Drawing on Don Quixote continues at Olivier Cornet Gallery until 29th February 2020.