Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane has once again decided to exhibit in the streets around its location at Parnell Square, following on from its Barry Flanagan show two years ago. In that exhibition, hare sculptures bounced down the Irish capital's main thoroughfare for the gallery's reopening.
This time, five new works by the English artist Julian Opie, entitled Julian Opie: Walking on O'Connell Street, have been placed on O'Connell Street as part of the gallery's centenary celebrations. Opie's installations face north, in contrast to the southerly orientation of the statues of Jim Larkin and the other national figures commemorated on the street, the intention being to guide people to the gallery's entrance.
Opie, who is best known for his stylised, computer-generated portraiture, has here employed LED technology to create five animated portraits, including one of himself. The results, in bright orange, are funky and visually arresting, but his decision to work in a style so clearly based on traffic signs is annoyingly literal, especially for a project in which a large part of the motivation is to lead the public to the gallery. Exhibiting the works in three dimensions, using double-sided light boxes one foot wide and mounted on prefabricated concrete blocks, is also awkward.
Where the installations are effective is in their relationship with the sculptures surrounding them. Despite their aspirations to three-dimensionality, the installations contradict almost everything about the sculptures on O'Connell Street, most of all in their anonymity. We can see Daniel O'Connell's chubby cheeks and William Smith O'Brien's mutton chops, but Opie leaves the head off each of his figures (the most identifiable feature of the body is blank, a floating empty bubble above the body).
The insistence of the installations' titles that, despite their generic appearance, they are portraits based, like the sculptures around them, on a real person, is disquieting. It raises questions about the nature of individuality, as well as the viability in the digital age of portraiture of the type represented by the nearby pieces.
Despite reservations about its form and execution, this show is a welcome addition to Dublin. It shakes up the dull, conservative nature of O'Connell Street and asks probing questions of those willing to pause for a second on their busy journeys. The Hugh Lane should exhibit on its surrounding streets more regularly.
To 8 Nov (00 353 1 222 5550)
Nicholas Hamilton, teacher, Dublin