Thursday, March 26, 2009

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

In a daring move that tops anything ever attempted by prankster artist Banksy, an Irish artist not only created two crude, nude portraits of Brian Cowen, the current Taoiseach (or Prime Minister) of Ireland, but walked into the National Gallery of Ireland and the Royal Hibernian Gallery and hung them on the walls! (A detail from one of the portraits, showing Cowen sitting on a toilet with toilet paper in hand, appears above. You can see another edited version of the second portrait, showing Cowen holding a pair of underwear, here.) A 35-year-old schoolteacher named Conor Casby has been charged with placing these odd tributes next to more respectful portraits of prominent Irish figures such as Michael Collins, William Butler Yeats, and, of course, Bono. Whether the charges against Casby will actually stick remains a question as he didn’t steal or damage anything, other than the public perception of Cowen, which was already fairly low.

Cowen (shown above, clothed, mercifully) has become a popular whipping boy in Irish politics since becoming the Taoiseach in 2008. The artist mocked Cowen further in the caption he added beneath the painting: “Brian Cowen, Politician 1960-2008. This portrait, acquired uncommissioned by the National Gallery, celebrates one of the finest politicians produced by Ireland since the foundation of the state. Following a spell at the helm of the Department of Finance during a period of unprecedented prosperity, Brian Cowen inherited the office of Taoiseach in 2008. Balancing a public image that ranges from fantastically intelligent analytical thinker to Big Ignorant F***er from Offaly, the Taoiseach proves to be a challenging subject to represent.” The portraits reportedly hung for an hour before guards noticed their unseemly presence. Art dealers are already speculating at the cost that these two “Portraitgate” paintings will bring at auction.

It’s moments like this that make be proud to be Irish. It’s much funnier than throwing a shoe.

[Many thanks to Dave, who tipped me off to Portraitgate and convinced me that I had to do something on it.]

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