From small cutting-edge galleries in Georgian houses, to large innovative state-of-the-art spaces, these are the best contemporary art galleries to enlighten and educate in Dublin.
Although it’s perhaps best known as a city steeped in history, Dublin is also home to a thriving contemporary art scene. This selection of spaces offers a range of exhibitions to encourage gallery-goers and support emerging talent. Institutional and artist-run, these galleries focus on exposing visitors to an innovative, challenging and engaging contemporary visual art practice.
The Molesworth Gallery
Art fans visiting Dublin will find the small but mighty Molesworth Gallery near Leinster House. Spread over two floors in a Georgian townhouse, this modern art gallery has a rich and diverse exhibition programme, hosting an average of eight solo shows and two group exhibitions annually. Founded in 1999, the gallery represents around 20 up-and-coming and established Irish artists including award-winning painters Catherine Barron and Shane Berkery. The first floor usually features a changing display of painting, sculpture and prints from their eminent collection, and is well worth a visit.
Named after the notable Irish art collector and public figure, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane was established in 1998 and continues Lane’s legacy of celebrating Irish art. The gallery is located in Charlemont House on Parnell Square and the unique architecture of the venue contrasts the surrounding Georgian architecture. Important aspects of the gallery are Irish artist Sean Scully’s bequest of his works, and the re-creation of the studio of the iconic Francis Bacon, as well as Bacon’s archive of books, slashed canvas, material and collection of photographs.
The home of digital and film photography in Ireland, Gallery of Photography Ireland came into being in 1978 and was moved to its current location in Dublin City’s Meeting House Square in 1995. This purpose-built space has fully-fitted darkrooms, digital imaging facilities, and hosts workshops for budding photographers to develop their skills, but the main draw for art lovers is the gallery. It organises a wide variety of rotating, and free, exhibitions that showcase and spotlight the work of many Irish and global photographers. As well as hosting exhibitions of big names, like Steve McCurry (known for his Afghan Girl photograph featured on the front cover of National Geographic in June 1985), this gallery also nurtures homegrown talent with its graduate exhibitions.
Founded in 1998, Kerlin Gallery has developed a reputation as one of Ireland’s leading contemporary art galleries. Designed by architect John Pawson, this two-floor space can be found in the heart of Dublin city near Grafton Street. Highlights of its past exhibitions include an Andy Warhol retrospective, numerous solo Sean Scully shows, and an exhibition of sculptures and photographs by Irish artist Dorothy Cross that explore the connection between humans and the natural world. The gallery has also featured a number of artists who have been shortlisted for the coveted Turner Prize, and has supported artists abroad at the Venice Biennale. With a growing list of important artists involved with this venue, Kerlin Gallery is essential to Dublin and Ireland’s contemporary artistic sphere.
Project Arts Centre started from humble beginnings as a one day-event before rapidly evolving into a three-week festival taking place at the Gate Theatre in 1966. Its popularity exposed the need for a permanent gallery space dedicated to the contemporary arts in Ireland. Since 2000, the centre has done just that, with two performance spaces and a gallery located in the central Temple Bar area. Since its conception Project Arts Centre has become a leader in contemporary artistic practice in Dublin and in Ireland, acting as a launching pad for many famous artists across mediums including painter Gerard Byrne and Dublin band U2. In addition to over 600 events and six exhibitions per year, Project Arts Centre also hosts a number of local and international festivals, including Dublin Writers’ Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival and Dublin Fringe Festival.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) is located in a renovated 17th-century hospital (with a formal facade and a large elegant courtyard, the building’s style is based on Les Invalides in Paris), resulting in a unique clash between contemporary cultures and historical residues. The hospital was restored in 1984 and officially opened as the Irish Museum of Modern Art in May 1991. IMMA hosts a wide range of regularly changing exhibitions, from celebrated Irish designers such as Eileen Gray, to international artists like Philippe Parreno. More recent shows include Second Sight, a collection of 550 photographs created over the last 20 years by Dr David Kronn, which were a gift to IMMA. Much like Dublin itself, IMMA is a cultural fusion; on one hand celebrating past artistic achievements, and on the other pushing boundaries by promoting cutting-edge contemporary art.
RUA RED defines itself as the South Dublin Arts Centre and is home to all types of art aimed at all members of the community, reflecting the diversity of Dublin’s south. Located in the emerging cultural quarter of Tallaght, just outside Dublin’s city centre, RUA RED’s artistic programme aims to inspire and engage local audiences as well as courting international visitors. The venue collaborates with local festivals and organisations to create a varied range of events and programmes, but also organises visual art exhibitions in its two galleries, theatrical productions, live music events, film screenings, performance pieces and dance recitals. With plenty to do and see, RUA RED is worth the excursion from Dublin city centre.
In the years after becoming independent from Trinity College Dublin in 1984, the Douglas Hyde was one of the only publicly funded artistic spaces in Ireland that focused solely on contemporary art. Nowadays, The Douglas Hyde singles out artists who have been marginalised or overlooked, both at home and abroad, to feature as part of their exhibition programme. This gallery punches above its weight, with two small but inviting spaces. The smaller second space, which was added in 2001 and has since won a number of architectural awards, regularly hosts ethnographic and craft exhibitions. In addition to these, the gallery hosts music events and produces a number of publications, a significant contribution to Dublin’s contemporary art scene for such a small space.
This artist-run organisation was founded in 1996 with the intention of collaborating with artists, curators and writers to engage and develop Irish contemporary art. Providing studio space and exhibition opportunities for Dublin-based and international artists, Pallas Projects provides a source of constant, revolutionary artistic production. They’re known for their offsite exhibitions and projects, which have included a four-year exhibition programme in a semi-derelict block of council flats, a white cube space in a former milking parlour, and collaborative projects with other major galleries. The project is now based at a long-term studio and project space in The Coombe.
Established in 1983 by a group of artists and administrators, this was one of the first DIY artist-centred initiatives in Ireland. This group was housed in a rented, disused shirt factory that extended through a block on Temple Bar towards the quays. As Temple Bar became a cultural and tourist hub, the gallery space contributed to and developed with the area’s rejuvenation during the 1990s. The shirt factory received a major facelift, with 30 artist studios and a sizeable gallery on the ground floor, complete with large windows to maximise light and the sense of space. Temple Bar Gallery + Studios officially took occupation of the building in 1994. Thirty years since its inception, TBG+S continues to support upcoming artists as well as connecting the public with radical Irish contemporary art, with exhibitions of varying themes and media, from performance art to painting and installations.