by Paula Murphy
The Sculptors’ Society of Ireland (qv) in its Code of Practice for the Purchasing/Commissioning of Art for Public Places actively promoted open competition in instances where a sculptor had to be chosen (SSI Newsletter, September 1992, 5). If competition seems particularly associated with the commissioning of public art (qv), the nature of the exhibition process is also often competitive. In the case of group exhibitions – notably the larger among them, such as the long-running RHA and the more contemporary EV+A (now eva International) – artists submit work for selection, a jury or curator chooses the work for display, and, once the exhibition is formed, artists compete with one another for awards and for patronage. In the first year of cigarette manufacturer P.J. Carroll’s sponsorship of IELA, when Brian O’Doherty (qv), deemed to be an ‘independent judge from over- seas’, was the sole adjudicator, a sculpture prize of £150 was awarded to Edward Delaney (qv) (IT, 31 July 1964).
As early as 1839 the rules laid down for the Royal Irish Art Union (RIAU) included the selection and purchasing of ‘paintings and sculptures by living artists exhibited in Ireland’ by a committee established for the purpose (Eileen Black, 1998, p. 140). Purists may be of the opinion that the world of art-making is, or perhaps should be, above competition, but artists have to make a living, and success in competition brings with it recognition and financial reward. Thomas Farrell’s (qv) success in winning the award for modelling at the RIAU in 1844 for his group of Nisus and Euryalus, which was also bought by the Union (FJ, 11 December 1844), saw him singled out from his contemporaries and marked the beginning of what was to be a significant career in sculpture.
The role of competitions in the commissioning of sculptors became particularly manifest in the nineteenth century, with the proliferation of public commemorative work. While it was acceptable for a private patron to commission work directly, it was expected that a more democratic process would prevail for the commissioning of public work, which was often paid for by public subscription. Usually a committee was formed to organize the process. However, the procedure was not without its problems and some sculptors were vehemently opposed to the practice. Organizing committees were often criticized for their apathy and incompetence (DB, 15 January 1865), and for their favouritism. With regard to the latter, Patrick MacDowell (qv) made it clear that having friends on the committee was generally more important than ‘the merits of the design’ submitted (Art Journal, 1850, 8). The expertise of selection committee members continued to be questioned well into the twentieth century (Aileen MacKeogh (qv) in ‘Sculpture Admin & Money’, Circa, 42 (October–November 1988), 37).
The choice of sculptor might be made by way of open competition (open to all sculptors), invited competition (a small and select number of sculptors invited to submit designs) or direct commission (no competitive element). For the national monument to commemorate Daniel O’Connell in Dublin , an additional committee was appointed in 1864, which included the Lord Chancellor and the presidents of the RHA and RIAI, to judge the submitted designs, which were exhibited publicly in the City Hall. This was the most controversial competition in Irish sculpture during the nineteenth century. While the committee preferred to commission John Henry Foley (qv) outright, public demand compelled it to have not just one but two open competitions, both of which failed to produce a result. Foley’s refusal to take part in such an exercise was publicized in the daily newspapers. This was the same Foley whose career had been launched in London in 1844 when he was successful in the competition to select sculptors to carve statues for the Palace of Westminster. Several sculptors of renown were disinclined to participate in public competitions – afraid to lose to a peer or, more particularly, to a younger, lesser known artist (as was to happen to John Hogan (qv) after his return from Rome, when he was unsuccessful in two such competitions in Dublin), and unwilling to give the requisite time to creating a design that might not be selected. After all, time was money, and premiums for the top designs, which served as some token of the effort involved in their creation, were only occasionally awarded. In 1880 Albert Bruce-Joy (qv) withdrew from a competition in London because of the absence of premiums (Philip Ward Jackson, 2003, p. 219).
The unpredictable nature of competitions was another factor that rendered them controversial. In the case of commemorative work there was always the possibility that the commission would not proceed. In 1898 and again in 1907, for example, competitions were held for a proposed commemoration of Theobald Wolfe Tone at the north-west corner of St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. In spite of designs being submitted in both instances, the project faltered through lack of funds and eventually collapsed. The commemoration was revisited in the 1960s to more profitable ends, when a Wolfe Tone Memorial Competition, held in 1964, resulted in a statue being sited at a different corner of the Green . The designs – joint submissions from sculptors and architects – were exhibited publicly at the NCA (later NCAD). Premiums were awarded to the three best designs: first, £500, to Edward Delaney (qv) and Noel Keating; second, £300, to Hilary Heron (qv) and S.F. Maskell (ill. IT, 16 October 1964); third, £150, to Frank Morris (qv), Francis Barry and John O’Hara. The competition judges were public servant Dr. C.S. (Todd) Andrews, painter Maurice MacGonigal and architects Andrew Devane and Gerard McNicholl (IT, 16 October 1964). No sculptor was a member of the judging panel. An even more impressive example of the unpredictability associated with competitions was the international search, in the early 1950s, to choose a sculptor to commemorate the Unknown Political Prisoner in a monument intended for Berlin. In February 1952 Henry Moore announced in London what purported to be a competition on a vast scale, inviting sculptors to submit sketch models within their own country, where a local committee would select a short list. Optimistic sculptors were, therefore, potentially submitting to two competitions – one national, the other international. Of the approximately thirty sculptors who declared an interest in Ireland, eighteen finally submitted maquettes, among whom Trevor Cox (who became William Trevor)  and Friedrich Herkner (qqv)  were selected. Their designs represented Ireland in the exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London, in March 1953, along with the work of sculptors from more than fifty other countries. Cox and Herkner were competing with such luminaries as Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth. Both were awarded £50 in the local competition, but only Cox was among the prize-winners in London, when he was selected as one of eighty recipients who were awarded £25 by ‘a distinguished International Jury’ (catalogue of the exhibition of the Unknown Political Prisoner International Sculpture Competition, Tate Gallery, 1953). The ultimate prize went to English sculptor Reg Butler, who was awarded the commission, but his design was never realized as the project was ultimately shelved.
Sculpture competitions continued to be advertised through the twentieth and into the twenty-first century and were the preferred procedure of the SSI, when the society became involved in the management of public commissions. In 1989, the then chairman of the SSI, Michael Bulfin (qv), in a letter to the Irish Times, stated that ‘where public sculpture, public siting and public monies are involved, sculpture is no different from any other profession: the commission should be put to open tender’ (IT, 14 September 1989). Bulfin was responding to the decision of Bord Fáilte to offer a substantial commission – both in sculptural and financial terms – directly to one sculptor. Earlier in the same year Aosdána had discussed the inappropriateness of ‘gifted sculpture’ being located in the public domain without an open competition and the ensuing approval of a panel of experts (IT, 21 April 1989). The discussion focused on Anna Livia (by Eamonn O’Doherty) and Molly Malone (by Jeanne Rynhart (qv)), both erected in 1988, at the instigation of businessman Michael Smurfit and Matt McNulty (Bord Fáilte) respectively. The 1980s was a busy decade for sculpture competitions, some examples of which were: more than a hundred sculptors registered for the competition to select a single work for the courtyard of New Ireland’s property development at Wilton Place in 1985; eighty sculptors sought to participate in the Dublin Millennium Sculpture symposium in 1988, which would result in ten sculptors being chosen to create ten works for the city; and eight finalists were shortlisted for a sculpture to be sited on the roundabout approaching Dublin Airport, 1989 (IT, 8 May 1985; 2 March 1988; 6 March 1989). In 1995 six shortlisted sculptors were invited to submit maquettes for the commission to commemorate Oscar Wilde in a statue in Dublin  (Paula Murphy, ‘The Quare on the Square: A Statue of Oscar Wilde for Dublin’, in Jerusha McCormack (ed.), Wilde the Irishman, New Haven and London, 1998, pp. 127–39).
Simultaneously with the millennium project, in 1988 the people of Tallaght, in conjunction with Dublin City Council, became the first community in Ireland to be given the opportunity to choose a sculpture for their main street. Dick Joynt (qv), whose The Victors  was selected from the five short-listed sculptures, noted with admiration a process in which, for once, the local community served as the judging panel for a piece of public art (IT, 11 August 1988).
The absence of the Nelson Column (installed on O’Connell Street in 1808/09 by way of a competition and blown up in 1966), which had a substantial presence in the centre of Dublin, created the opportunity for a highly publicized replacement project. The millennium monument competition organized by Dublin Corporation in 1998, which resulted in English architect Ian Ritchie’s Spire (completed 2003), was a free-for-all.
Proposals were submitted by all and sundry – artist and non-artist. The submissions, exhibited in the Civic Offices on Wood Quay, were varied in their degree of seriousness, from considered and well-finished small-scale models, to scribbles on scraps of paper torn from lined notebooks. The designs were judged anonymously. The jury, which included sculptor Vivienne Roche (qv), was weighted in favour of architecture.
By contrast, when the Dublin Docklands Authority initiated a project in 2006 to site a significant piece of public sculpture in the newly developed area, it decided on a select competition. Three Irish and three international artists were chosen to submit designs, among which Antony Gormley’s proposal for a colossal metal figure, to be positioned adjacent to Seán O’Casey Bridge , was selected in 2007. However, by January 2009 the project, which might have been considered a certainty, had been scrapped because of the current flat economic situation.
With the formation of the Irish Free State, traditional competitions were often used as a means of projecting the newly independent country. An early example of such an enterprise was Aonach Tailteann – the sporting and artistic festival held in Dublin in 1924, 1928 and 1932. Oliver Sheppard (qv) was among the members of the organizing committee for the first Tailteann exhibition of Irish art and artistic industries, when Francis Doyle-Jones won the silver medal and Francis Wiles the bronze for sculpture in the round; and Kathleen Verschoyle and Joseph Higgins (qqv) were winners in the relief section (IT, 6 August 1924). The design of the medals and the Tailteann trophy have been attributed to several sculptors, notably Sheppard and Albert Power (qv). These art competitions, apparently intended as a distraction, were the government’s attempt to ‘deflect public criticism from the poor state of the Irish economy’ and from the political problems of the day (Mike Cronin, ‘The State on Display: The 1924 Tailteann Art Competition’, New Hibernia Review, 9, 3 (Autumn 2005), 51) (see Appendix 2).
The annual An Tóstal festivals, organized by Bord Fáilte in the 1953 to encourage tourism, included sculpture displays, which involved a competitive element. In preparation in 1952 the competition invited ‘models by Irish sculptors, carvers and modellers’ suggesting as their subject a figure symbolizing Young Ireland (I Pr, 7 November 1952). In a similar vein, promoting Irishness, the Cultural Relations Committee organized a competition in 1951 to design ‘a statuette of St Patrick, suitable for reproduction and commercial distribution’, particularly abroad (IT, 22 June; 6 October 1951). Among the thirty entrants, including Hilary Heron, Trevor Cox and John D. Bourke (qqv), Isralia Cowan (b. 1927) was awarded first prize , Oisín Kelly (qv) second, and Peter Grant’s (qv) work was highly rec- ommended. In 1959 a new sculpture prize was announced in conjunction with the Oireachtas exhibition. A gold medal and £50 was offered for the best submission leading Irish sculptors in the 1930s. The Municipal’s Commemorative Art exhibition of painting and sculpture was the result of a competition, in which work was invited for sub- mission, in a relatively short time period, based on the subject of the Rising. (There was often criticism about the length of time allotted for competitions.) Sixty-seven works, nine of which were sculptures, were selected for exhibition from 210 entries (I Pr, 13 April 1966). Senior and junior awards (three in each case – under and over twenty-seven years of age) were on offer in both disciplines. Sculptures presented were expected to be 36-inch maquettes (I Ind, 24 May 1966). In the senior sculpture section prizes were awarded to Edward Delaney’s Éirí Amach na Cásca (Easter Rising), £750, Oisín Kelly’s Phoenix, £500, and Christopher Ryan’s I saw my freedom won and all laugh in the sun (Yeats), £250; and in the junior to Michael O’Sullivan’s 1916, £250, Brian King’s Homage to 1916, £150 and R. Uhlemann’s Rising 1916, £50. The display at the NGI had an impressive footfall, but the competitive nature of the Municipal show engendered more publicity and comment. Competitions inevitably encouraged observations about the range of work presented and the selection of the individual artists. By 1966 Delaney was, not surprisingly, regarded as ‘an inveterate prize- winner’ (IT, 15 April 1966).
Art competitions, such as the Macaulay Fellowship (established in 1958 and administered by the Arts Council) and the Taylor Art Award (instigated by the RDS in 1860), although not exclusively for sculpture, have had a significant role in the careers of some sculptors. In the former, which was funded by Irish diplomat William J.B. Macaulay, Ian Stuart and James McKenna had joint success in 1960, Brian King in 1965 and John F. Burke (qqv) in 1970. The Taylor, funded by a bequest from army officer and art collector Captain George Archibald Taylor, offered awards in earlier years for different types of sculpture depicting a given subject, rather than leaving the choice to the entrant’s. The Taylor has always awarded fewer prizes in sculpture than in painting. Peter Grant submitted work several times, with some success, on such given topics as Lawrence of Arabia, 1936 (£10 prize); Moses the Lawgiver, 1937 (Taylor Art Scholarship); Defiance of the King, 1938; Manannán Mac Lir, 1939; St Patrick overthrowing Crom Cruadh, 1941 (John Turpin, ‘Catalogue of Sculpture of Peter Grant’, Dublin Historical Record, 56, 1 (Spring 2003), 102–13).
Some Taylor prize-winners went on ‘to achieve major artistic reputations’ (Patrick J. Murphy, p. 84), notably Dorothy Cross (qv), winner of the award (£100) in 1977, and subsequently short-listed for the GPA (Guinness Peat Aviation) Emerging Artists Award in 1986, for the IMMA Glen Dimplex Artists Award in 1995 and winner of the Nissan Public Art Project/ IMMA in 1999 – all three corporate-funded awards. The GPA exhibition/award, which commenced in 1981 and lasted for the decade, received some criticism for the vagueness with which it employed the term ‘emerging artist’ and made use of it in its short-listing (Joan Fowler, ‘GPA 1983’, Circa, 13 (November– December 1983), 20–21). Further negative comment for the concentration on 2D work in the 1983 exhibited selection was rectified the following year, when several sculptors were among the 33 short-listed artists, two of whom, Michael Verdon and Joe Butler, were prize-winning (IAR, 1, 4 (Winter 1984), 57). In 1988, when the adjudicators were Irish critic Dorothy Walker and Suzanne Page, director of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, sculptors Liadin Cooke and Locky Morris (qqv) were among five prize-winners, both receiving £5,000 (IT, 14 November 1988). By the time it was winding up its involvement in sponsorship of the emerging artists exhibition, GPA was recognized as a platform for video, Conceptual art and installations, as well as painting, sculpture and graphic work (IT, 21 November 1990).
Both the Glen Dimplex (1994–2001) and Nissan Public Art Project (1997–2001; subsequently the Nissan Art Project/ RHA) were operated in conjunction with IMMA – the former ‘to celebrate a level of achievement and development in an artist’s work’ (catalogue 1994 Glen Dimplex exhibition, n.p.); the latter to assist an artist to realize an idea in the public domain that appeared to be unrealizable (Declan McGonagle, ‘New Models of Negotiation’, IAR, 22 (2005), 5). The Glen Dimplex was open to both Irish artists who had exhibited in Ireland or abroad and to non-Irish artists who had exhibited in Ireland within a specified time; the Nissan was both open submission and direct invitation.
Alanna O’Kelly (qv) was the winner of the first Glen Dimplex award of £15,000, which attracted 130 nominations, reduced to a shortlist of four. In each of its eight years the short-listed artists submitted work for exhibition in IMMA, which was accompanied with a slim catalogue – modelled on the annual Turner Prize in London. While the exhibitions were not always entirely successful, their ‘usefulness and value were beyond question’, incorporating worthy winners and losers (IT, 24 May 2001). American Matthew Barney was the winner of the final Glen Dimplex award in 2001, by which time it was considered ‘one of the most significant arts sponsorships in the country’ (IT, 26 May 2001). The short-lived Nissan project selected three sub- missions for realization: Frances Hegarty (qv) and Andrew Stones, For Dublin, 1997, £40,000, neon texts from Ulysses located around Dublin, chosen from 90 entries; Dorothy Cross, Ghost Ship, 1999 , a light ship in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, 26 entries, a two-year budget resulting in the most successful of the Nissan awards; Dan Shipsides, Bamboo Scaffolding, 2000, on the former Carlton Cinema, O’Connell Street, Dublin, £100,000, 35 entries, four short-listed, including Shane Cullen and Jaki Irvine (qqv).
The Limerick Exhibition of Visual Art, later known as EV+A and eva International, has outlived the late twentieth-century Dublin-administered competitions of contemporary art. Commencing in 1977, the open submission show has a single curator (such as French Pierre Restany, 1981; Dutch Rudi Fuchs, 1985; Italian Germano Celant, 1991; Spanish Rosa Martínez, 2000) who orchestrates and puts his/her stamp on the exhibition. The outcome is usually unpredictable, unlike the often ‘all too predictable’ shows in Dublin (IT, 12 March 1991). Several awards are offered, notably the open award won by Dorothy Cross in 1990 (£1,000) and again in 1992. The work of a large number of artists (70 in 1993) is spread across the city in galleries, banks, pubs, churches and elsewhere. Apparently using the German Kassel-based Documenta as a reference, the exhibition actively seeks to interact with the city (John Logan in ‘All About EV+A’, Circa, 64 (Summer, 1993), 47). Limerick’s long-running competitive open submission international show has achieved the reputation of being ‘Ireland’s preminent annual exhibition of contemporary art’ (Maeve Connolly, ‘Limerick: EV+A’, Circa, 112 (Summer 2005), 77).
SELECTED READING : Read, 1982; Hill, 1998; Murphy, 2010; Patrick J. Murphy, ‘Dearc 150: From Promise to Distinction’, IAR, 28, 1 (March–May, 2011), 82–87.
The Royal Irish Academy has kindly granted permission to Sculpture Dublin to reproduce a number of texts from Sculpture 1600-2000, Volume 3 in the Royal Irish Academy’s 5-volume publication Art and Architecture of Ireland (Yale, 2014). The book, edited by Paula Murphy, comprises introductory essays, biographies and thematic essays.