by Peter Shortt. Irish Academic Press, December 2016. 422 p. ill. ISBN 9781911024293 (pbk), $50.00.
Reviewed July 2017
In today’s globalized art world, the biennial and its cousin, the art fair, are deeply entrenched exhibition structures. Taking cues from world’s fairs and other large-scale expositions, early recurring art exhibitions (notably the Venice Biennale, begun in 1895) served to showcase local achievement and bring international perspectives to the host city.
The Dublin-based series of exhibitions known as “Rosc” might well be considered a precursor to the contemporary biennial. In The Poetry of Vision: The ROSC Art Exhibitions 1967-1988, Peter Shortt tackles this pivotal piece of Irish art history. Initially envisioned by local architect Michael Scott, the exhibitions were meant as an “educational” antidote to what some considered an insular, conservative attitude toward art in Ireland. Held approximately every four years, Rosc brought international artwork to Ireland during a period of rapid change and avant-garde movement in the larger art world.
The idea and its execution were controversial. From disagreements over moving cultural artifacts to outrage over curatorial oversights such as the marginalization of Irish and women artists, Rosc reliably generated debate. For better or worse, over the twenty-one years in which these exhibitions occurred, attitudes toward art and art education changed in Ireland.
In this book, Peter Shortt aims to comprehensively construct an “art historical, factual, and analytical account” of Rosc. Organized chronologically, each main chapter corresponds to one quadrennial exhibition, delving into financial, organizational, and curatorial issues, detailing the artists and works involved, and addressing its critical reception. To these ends, Shortt’s consistent deployment of archival evidence, interviews, and other primary source material is impressive, as is his thorough knowledge of each of the works shown. Particularly compelling is his coverage of Irish political and cultural skirmishes that occurred around Rosc.
Adapted from the author’s PhD dissertation, this text is heavy with references, names, and acronyms. An over-saturation of detail on international artists and movements well documented elsewhere detracts from the book’s more unique throughlines, which could be better highlighted within its organization. In brief, much notable scholarship on the specifically local issues surrounding Rosc is obscured by the ambitiously sweeping scope of this project.
Peter Shortt is to be commended on the depth of his original research for this publication, the first substantive text written on Rosc. The book itself is a large, handsomely printed paperback, packed with color reproductions of works of art, catalog pages, and installation photography. An index and bibliography are included. Due to the sheer density of the text, this title may be best suited for academic libraries that serve researchers beyond the undergraduate level. Its contents may interest researchers within disciplines such as art history, art education, curatorial studies, and Irish or European cultural studies.