A new dictionary of Irish artists will raise eyebrows in the art world, not so much for who is included but for the celebrated names who have been left out.
Writer and critic Robert O'Byrne's new Dictionary of Living Irish Artists is a major production and a who's who of creative talent. But what will intrigue readers are those much-hyped, internationally-recognised 'celebrity' names conspicuous by their absence. No Graham Knuttel, whose work adorns the homes of Hollywood stars. Under 'S', no Kevin Sharkey, whose canvases sold for four-figure sums before he became bankrupt.
O'Byrne does not claim the dictionary as definitive, but says he had final say in names included.
"I believe the selection is a representation of what is best in Irish contemporary art. Ultimately, the choice was mine. I was given a cap of 200 names. There are other artists I would like to be in it. Then again, for balance, there are artists in it who I personally don't care for, whose work is not to my personal taste. And I may have portrayed those unenthusiastic sensibilities on one or two occasions in the text. But they are there because, in their own field, they are excellent examples."
How is Irish contemporary art holding up on the international market? Arabella Bishop, director of Sothebys' Dublin office, has not seen the publication yet, but is confident the book will prove a valuable tool in informing a wider audience of what is happening in Irish art.
"Sean Scully and Elizabeth Magill are in it, and both artists also feature in the forthcoming Sothebys' New York auction of the Lehman Brothers Corporate Art Collection on 25 September. Elsewhere, installation artist Corban Walker will represent Ireland at the next Venice Biennale."
O'Byrne's dictionary, published by Plurabelle, comes with a hefty €75 cover price, but the value of the artwork included in the book is never mentioned.
O'Byrne believes that during the economic boom people became more hung-up on prices achieved than the artistic merit of work itself. For that reason, no prices, sensational or otherwise, are listed in the dictionary, he says.
The economic downturn, in fact, makes this the ideal time to publish a book on contemporary art, he argues.
"The ignoring of prices is deliberate. The problem with Irish art in the past few years is that perceptions of it have been distorted by an over-preoccupation with price fetched at auction, rather than artistic value alone."
Because Irish art, like every other market, is going through a difficult time, it allows people to judge work on merit rather than monetary value. "That's a good thing for art," he adds.
The book will be launched at the Dublin City Gallery, (the Hugh Lane), on Wednesday evening.