Positioned just off the southern coast of Ireland, the city of Cork may be small, but it is a thriving hub for the arts. Named the European Capital of Culture in 2005, and is renowned worldwide for its annual jazz and film festivals. Within this harbour of creative talent, this guide provides a quick insight into the most prominent contemporary art galleries and art centres in the city and its environs.
The red-bricked Crawford Art Gallery is located right in the heart of the city, near the celebrated Cork Opera House and is at the core of the city’s culture. Developed from the former Custom House of Cork, the gallery is one of the city’s oldest at over 200 years old. Although the gallery houses a permanent collection of classic works, such as the antique statuary from the workshop of Antonio Canova, it also boasts a large, modern exhibition space. This space has featured exhibitions of pioneering contemporary Irish art from the likes of Dorothy Cross to Robert Ballagh, as well as works from leading international artists such as Hassan Hajjaj. With its rich catalogue of works, this gallery will always feature on any Cork City visitor’s list.
Nestled at the edge of the University College Cork campus, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery is a recent addition to Cork’s gallery scene. Opened in 2004, the gallery is named after its benefactor, Dr Lewis Glucksman. There is a regular turnover of thematic exhibitions within the gallery, with the works of Damien Hirst, Tacita Dean and William Kentridge gracing its vast walls. However, it is not just the high standard of works inside the gallery that will catch attention: the building itself is a multiple award-winning design. The gallery space is open and fluid, as the viewer slowly walks anti-clockwise up through the building. The exhibitions are interrupted by beautiful panoramic views of Cork City, almost including the city’s vista in the show. The minimal wooden floors, whitewashed walls and large steel framed windows effortlessly compliment the exhibited works, allowing them to speak for themselves, making the Glucksman a unique and memorable experience.
Although founded in 1978, the Triskel Arts Centre opened its doors in its current location on Tobin Street in 1986, and has since become one of Cork’s most progressive exhibition spaces. More recently, in 2009, the centre expanded into the neighbouring 18th-century Christchurch building, resulting in an even larger space which commissions and promotes Cork’s leading contemporary art. The Triskel is also a thriving independent cinema screening everything from big blockbusters and current Hollywood films, to timeless Irish classics and progressive shorts. Along with housing local record label Plug’d, and the Theatre Development Centre, which is run by the renowned Corcadorca, the Triskel Arts Centre is truly dedicated to advancing Cork’s art scene, and is an experience not to be missed.
Supporting local contemporary arts and crafts, the Lavit Gallery is among Cork’s longest-established independent galleries. Located on Father Matthew Street just off the South Mall, the gallery spreads over two floors and showcases a variety of work, from landscape paintings to prints to ceramics. It is owned by the Cork Arts Society, and once a year, the gallery hosts their annual exhibition. Furthermore, the gallery is linked to the local art college, the Crawford College of Art and Design, and every year sponsors an award for the most talented and promising student from the final year show. The Lavit Gallery provides an artistic oasis from the busy streets of the city.
On the north side of the River Lee is one of the newer additions to Cork’s contemporary fine art world. Originally situated in Ballydehob, West Cork, the increasing popularity of 2020 Fine Art Gallery resulted in it moving location to its current location of Cork City’s historic north quayside, near the famous Shandon Bells Tower. The gallery features a host of both local and national talent and has become an active venue for promoting Cork’s contemporary art culture, partaking every autumn in Cork’s Culture Night with critically acclaimed exhibitions and events. This gallery is definitely one to watch.
Linked to the local Crawford College of Art and Design and Cork Institute of Technology, the Wandesford was added to Cork’s art map in 2010. The gallery makes up one wing of a larger warehouse arts complex which includes the Backwater Artists Group and Cork Printmakers. The gallery not only provides a space for students from CIT and the Crawford to exhibit their work, but also organises a number of educational opportunities for the public. The gallery’s design is a fusion of crisp white walls with the period features of the 18th-century warehouse. It has hosted exhibitions of notable local talent, such as sculptor Maud Cotter, to internationally renowned photographer of the stars Terry O’Neill, making this gallery one to visit.
This non-profit centre prides itself on being Cork City’s newest contemporary art space. Housed in the former revenue government buildings on Sullivan’s Quay, Sample-Studios occupies three floors with sixty arts-dedicated workshops and projects aimed at supporting and progressing Cork’s contemporary art sphere. Sample-Studios promotes not only the visual arts through their TACTIC programme, but also the performing arts, by hosting a performing arts programme. While new to the city, this centre has already made a name for itself in Cork City among locals and visitors alike.
Travelling a little further from Cork’s city centre is the picturesque seaside town of Kinsale. Although a small and intimate space, The Boathouse Gallery focuses on local and national talent. The building, built in 1906, was originally a steam bakery, but took on the function of a gallery in 2010. The Boathouse, along with other art spaces dotted throughout Kinsale, takes part in the annual Kinsale Arts Week, which runs at the end of summer, and has attracted visitors worldwide. Now over a decade old, this festival has become a core part of Cork’s culture calendar. While Kinsale is on every visitor’s list for its captivating beauty, its small but novel contemporary art world is also becoming an attraction in itself.
Located in Cobh, this arts centre is just a short train journey from Cork City. A non-profit arts venue, the Sirius Arts Centre attracts international interest due to its strategic location next to a port. The centre is located in the old Royal Cork Yacht Club building, famous for its Italianate design by the architect Anthony Salvin. Unfortunately, when the club moved to Crosshaven, the building fell into disrepair. However, in 1988, Sirius Commemoration Ltd. bought the premises with the aim of facilitating multidisciplinary artistic expression. It also promotes cultural community engagement, and provides workshops, lectures and development projects alongside a well-respected artist-in-residence programme. Notable artist-in-residence names include the photographer Doug Dubois, and 2010 World Press Photo Contest winner Marco Vernaschi. Other exhibitions include the work of well known, South Africa based photographer Roger Ballen as well as Michael Somoroff and August Sander.