03 April 2014

Art for Lent (30): ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’
(2004), by John Byrne

John Byrne’s ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ in the Italian Quarter off Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

My choice of Art for Lent this morning (3 April 2014) is John Byrne’s controversial ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ in the Italian Quarter off Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin. This Dublin version of the Last Supper is the centrepiece of the Italian Quarter on the north bank of the River Liffey at the Millennium Bridge.

John Byrne’s ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ was completed in 2004, with photographs screen-printed onto vitreous enamel. It measures 220 x 930 cm. It consists of a cast of 13, and depicts a re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, but with an ethic mix of disciples, modern dress, women and contemporary food.

John Byrne’s ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ was installed in Dublin’s ‘Italian Quarter’ ten years ago and was opened on 31 July 2004.

This work by was commissioned by the Wexford restaurateur and TD, Mick Wallace, and his company, M&J Wallace Ltd, for the courtyard at Bloom’s Lane, Lower Ormond Quay on the north side of the River Liffey. The project was curated by Cliodhna Shaffrey.

John Byrne sees his ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ as an expression of “positive politics and his faith in ordinary people,” and this mural reflects a changing society and the growing cultural mix in Dublin.

He says its message includes the suggestion that neither institution nor religion has a monopoly on goodness.

To assemble the apostles, Byrne walked through Dublin and approached people asking them if they would like to take part in the Last Supper.

The final selection, dressed by the artist in emblematic garments, could – without these garments – represent a cross-section of people you or I could meet in any ordinary day in the streets of Dublin.

Large numbers of tourists, workers and diners pass John Byrne’s ‘Dublin’s Last Supper’ every day and every night in the Italian Quarter in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The thirteen, from left to right, are:

Bartholomew: Jude O Dochartaigh, a tattoo artist;

James the Less: Vernoica, a librarian;

Andrew: Eddie Salim, from east Africa;

Judas: Frank Conlon, an actor and drama facilitator;

Peter: Henry;

John: Julie Kerrigan, an employee at Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre;

Jesus: Kulpreet Singh, a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin;

Thomas: Willie Crowley, an ecologist;

James the Great: Leighton, a student at Cornell University;

Philip: Diana Sabogal, a student at the American College, Dublin;

Matthew: Alan Kavanagh, an architecture student at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT);

Thaddeus: Aloysius McKenna, a building worker;

Simon: Michael Foley, a network analyst.

Did you notice the extra hand behind Judas? This is the hand of Jonathan Hession, the photographer on this project.

John Byrne worked in collaboration with a team that included: photographer, Jonathan Hession; stage director, Laragh Pittmann; Photo Retouching, Rory McAllorum; Costumes, Jean Cronin; Film Processing, Ciaran Rooney; and Assistant Photographer, Fionn Hession.

The table for the supper is laid with wine, fruit, Irish soda bread, salt, bitter herbs and a tea pot.

Making the work was something akin to staging and shooting a movie scene. The photographs were shot in Saint Michael’s and Saint John’s Church in Temple Bar. The background scenes were shot separately and include St Luke’s Church, now a fire-damaged ruin in the Coombe in Dublin’s Liberties, and the dome of the Four Courts, photographed from the roof of Temple Bar Gallery and Studios.

John Byrne is known for his satirical wit, and for his ability to get under the skin and to hit a pulse. His previous works included The Border Interpretive Centre (Louth/Armagh, 2000) and his video Would you die for Ireland? about Robert Emmet. His work has been praised in The Observer for its “slightly mad but strangely instructive” qualities and he was described in the Sunday Tribune as “one of surprisingly few Irish artists who consistently deals with issues focusing on Ireland, its history, and Irishness.”

The curator of the project, Clíodhna Shaffrey, felt that an artist like John Byrne, might respond to the nuances of Mick Wallace’s persona, with his interest in politics, philosophy, Italy, wine and passion for soccer.

Byrne manages to please his patron when he places a Juventus shirt in the corner, behind where Simon is sitting, and when he adds the Italian club’s name in its signature font to the wall of old Saint Luke’s which is crumbling and covered in graffiti.

Some thoughts and questions for reflection

Byrne’s mural is a popular place for tourists to have their photographs taken, but it caused controversy and has upset many people who have found it offensive or even sacrilegious. Do you find it offensive, and if so, why?

The word holy implies being set apart for God. Do you you think this is a good or bad example of how to make Christian symbols relevant to today’s culture?

Do you think it is acceptable or offensive to have a mural of the Last Supper in a street or square that is surrounded by many restaurants?

Do you think Leonardo da Vinci may have caused offence by using contemporary models for his Last Supper?

Should John Byrne have portrayed three of the disciples (in this case James the Less, John and Philip) as women?

Is the portrayal of Judas as a modern-day banker or Peter as a priest seeking to make the images relevant to today’s society?

Or is the artist criticising banking and the Church or saying they have lost authority in Irish society today?

Further details about this project are available from Cliodhna Shaffrey: cshaffrey _at_shaffrey.ie. Larger images available of this work can be seen here.

Tomorrow:Ecce Homo’ by Patrick Pye.

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