Art for Art's Sake and Dublin's Nudes

Pushing the boundaries of public decency through public art in Dublin

The Anna Livia Statue which was unveiled in Dublin's O'Connell St, 17th June 1988. Photographer Tom Burke.
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Nudes in Dublin are in plain sight not due to the Irish weather cooling down naturists, but a reflection of the fact that these displays of public nudity are works of art, out in the open. Who'd have thought that nudism in Ireland is a difficult thing, especially on an island that still has its moral compass very much dominated by church doctrine (with both the Roman-Catholics and Presbyterians pursuing the dogma of "Thou shalt not ..." with a vengeance)?

Okay, there are those libertines in the big cities. But even they have not yet dared to bare it all in public places.

Yet, you may find the occasional nude confronting you in Dublin. In public. It is art, after all! Where human physical nature is kept well hidden, the artistic portrayal of a naturist can be seen in a few places, some with almost weird stories surrounding them.

Anna Livia: Banned From O'Connell Street

Once upon a time... well into the late 1990s, actually, the statue of Anna Livia graced Dublin's O'Connell Street. It aroused many. The long-legged beauty reclined in her birthday costume, some algae-like hair not quite protecting her modesty. The "Floozie in the Jacuzzi" attracted unsavory elements. Blame the nude! So, when Dublin's tallest artistic erection, the Spire (or "Stiletto in the Ghetto"), went up, Anna Livia went into storage.

A dozen or so years later she resurfaced, near the Liffey, by Heuston Station and the National Museum in Collins Barracks, on a patch of land rarely visited by anybody.

Robbed of her stone surroundings, the once gracefully reclining nude now looks like a failed attempt at planking. This is Dublin's contribution on the 101 on "How to Ruin Art".

Artist: Éamonn O'Doherty
Location: Croppies Memorial Park, corner of Wolfe Tone Quay and Temple Street West, next to the Dublin Civil Defence barracks.

Revealing Detail at the Sunlight Chambers

If you look at the splendid Sunlight Chambers, right where Parliament Street meets the Quays, you'll notice lots of women. The splendid artwork has busts (hinting at more in some cases, but showing nothing) and long strips of tiles showing the female pursuit of cleanliness (while the males toil away in the fields and workshops). All are very decently dressed, not in Victorian cover-all, but in "Classical" garb.

If you look closely (and know where to look), you'll notice that they snuck one nude in. Holding up the roof at the corner is a totally undressed, nubile female. A detail which might surprise, we cannot help but wonder whether this was done with a wink.

Artist: Designed by Liverpool architect Edward Ould for Lord Lever (Lever-Sunlight).
Location: Corner of Parliament Street and Essex Quay.

The Tain: Naked Heroes and Queens

Okay, the Tain, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley is one of the most exciting, sprawling epics in Irish literary history, telling the story of two bulls and a queen who would not take no for an answer. Who would not say "No!" if muscular men answered her call. It also features Setanta, also known as Cuchullain.

Small wonder then that you will find the core points of the Setanta mythology at the Setanta building.

In the form of tiles and covering a truly gigantic area with the stories, Setanta killing the hound, fighting his milk-brother Ferdia, dies tied to a tree. In-between her royal nudeness, Queen Maeve, riding bareback, is seemingly in ecstasy.

Artist: Desmond Kinney
Location: In the courtyard of the Setanta Building, corner of Kildare Street and Leinster Street South.

Sweeney and More Mythological Nudity

This is another huge story. Sweeney, a noble who annoyed a holy man and his otter, was struck with madness and henceforth proceeded to live in the woods, like the birds, which meant with no clothes and perched on branches, feeding off the land until salvation.

This story has been made into another huge artwork using tiles, again covering a wall that would have been very utilitarian otherwise. It features lots of nudity.

Sweeney himself is seen chasing around butt-naked (though strategically placed accessories protect his modesty). A nymph again provides a good glimpse of the female form.

Artist: Desmond Kinney
FORMER Location: Inner, first-floor courtyard at the Talbot Mall (Irish Life Centre), access on weekdays only from Abbey Street Lower. The whole artwork was taken down in the summer of 2013 and carted away, presumably "mosaic pieces will be donated to the National College of Art and Design for recycling".

The Nudes Surrounding Oscar Wilde

The Oscar Wilde statue in Archbishop Ryan Park might be fully clad and the focus of many a visitor, but two nudes near it should not go unmentioned, because they form part of this splendid tribute to Ireland's most-quoted writer.

One is supposed to portray Oscar Wilde's long-suffering wife, Constance, who kneels, holding her visibly pregnant belly, pert breasts topped by erect nipples, yet with the face of a teenager, looking modestly away, but who knows where?

And then we have a male torso, with all identifying detail cut off ... leaving just a young, athletic upper and lower body, with just a hint of pubic hair where the artist decided that enough is enough for "Dionysus". This may well be seen as a hint at Oscar's predilection for young boys in a love that dares not speak its name.

Artist:  Danny Osborne
Location: Archbishop Ryan Park, corner of Merrion Square West and North.

Aspiration After a Sex Change

On the side of the Treasury Building (once the main offices of a very successful developer, now partly occupied by NAMA), visitors with an open eye for their surroundings will spot a naked figure climbing the wall. The artwork is called "Aspiration" and symbolizes Ireland going onwards and upwards.

This is all very nice, but with two twists. One looks like a massive bronze casting, but is actually a fairly lightweight fiberglass creation. And the other: the artist had conceived "Aspiration" as a male climber. However, developer Johnny Ronan reputedly did not want to look at a bare male bottom from his office window. No qualms about a bare female bottom, though. Thus a quick sex change.

Artist: Rowan Gillespie
Location: Treasury Building at Grand Canal Street Lower.

Queen Maeve and Full Frontal Nudity

Last, the price for Dublin's most overtly erotic female on public display must go to Queen Maeve. Yes, her again. The Connacht queen who promised willing warriors the pleasure found between her loins was a shoe-in for the decoration of Connaught House, another office block.

And there she stands, spear in hand, holding a bull's chopped-off head, a raven on her shoulder, hair like Bonny Tyler in a 1980s video clip. Plus ... er ... nothing, not a stitch of clothing on her highness. Visitors are greeted by long (really "elongated") legs, bare buttocks, bare breasts and a thick thatch of pubic hair preserving some modesty.

Artist: Patrick O'Reilly
Location: 1 Burlington Road, near the corner with Mespil Road.