At Stephen's Green, a Sculpture Gone for Good

A road cuts through where Trace once stood.

Until 2013, for 25 years, the large sculpture by artist Grace Weir stood across the street from St Stephen’s Green, near Merrion Row.

But the three 10-foot-high arches are now consigned to memory. On Monday morning, cars turned right away from the park, and a pedestrian darts out through the traffic.

Trace won’t reappear on Dublin’s streets anytime soon, says Dublin City Council Public Art Manager Ruairí Ó Cuiv.

The sculpture is in storage, as it wasn’t feasible to relocate it, he says.

Through Portals

Engineers had to make way for the Luas Cross City, and so they rejigged where traffic can go around the park to allow a right turn from St Stephen’s Green onto Merrion Row. As a result, Weir’s sculpture Trace was dismantled.

It had been commissioned in 1988 as part of Dublin’s millennium celebrations. It was made from limestone and Portland stone, with the latter taken from the Custom House and donated to the artist when the building was undergoing restoration works in the late 1980s.

The artist placed designs in Liscannor stone, that were set into the pavement, guiding pedestrians through the arches.

According to art historian Niamh Ann Kelly, “the interlinking triple arches draw inspiration and physical source from the Georgian architecture that visually defines much of Dublin city centre”.

For Weir, who was born in 1962, Trace was an early commission. One theme that is central to her work, according to Kelly, is “the potential for the installation of artworks to function as sites of social interactivity.”

She later went on to represent Ireland at the Venice Biennale, completed the concrete mural of constellations at the back of Smock Alley Theatre on Essex Street, and gradually moved away from sculpture and into film.

But as a site-specific work, Trace was hard to relocate. So it was stored in 2013 on pallets in an unused area of Gullistan Terrace Waste Management Depot in Rathmines.

It was discovered in March this year that four of the Portland-stone blocks were missing. They have yet to be found.

Earlier this year, Weir was asked by the council what she thought should happen. “Originally it seemed that there would be enough space to comfortably accommodate the sculpture on the new traffic island, but this did not turn out so,” said Ó Cuiv, by email.

Ó Cuiv suggested the corner of Kildare Street and St. Stephen’s Green as a possible relocation spot.

But the context had changed. “It was not possible to reinstate the desire lines and the idea that the arches would act as portals through which people would move,” says Ó Cuiv.

It was this that made up Weir’s mind about Trace‘s future. Never convinced about relocation, says Ó Cuiv, she decided to call it a day.

The decommissioning of public artworks can be temporary or permanent, he says. In this case, it seems to be the latter.

Where Do They Go?

In 2009, Ó Cuiv decided the council needed a policy to deal with public artworks that may, in time, be removed from our streets.

Currently, there are three options for decommissioning an artwork: relocation, storage, or “deaccession”.

The latter involves either returning the work to the artist or donor or destroying the work altogether. The council’s Public Art Advisory Group ultimately decides a work’s fate.

Trace may have been the first of Dublin’s public artworks to be affected by the now ready-for-launch Luas Cross City.

Of the other statues and sculptures that have been uprooted during the past few years of construction, some are going back.

The Lady Grattan fountain at St Stephen’s Green and the statue of poet Thomas Moore on College Street have already been put back. The statue of Molly Malone is staying at its new location on Andrew Street.

The People’s Island by artist Rachel Joynt – the gold footprints that were originally located at the corner of Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street – has been relocated to O’Connell Bridge.

But the statue of Father Mathew, previously on O’Connell Street, has yet to be reinstalled. But it’s heading back to O’Connell Street in the next few months, said Transport Infrastructure Ireland spokesperson Tom Manning, by email response.

Without a Trace

In March, Ó Cuiv, in a report to the council’s arts committee, noted that unlike the Luas Cross City project, the council’s Arts Office does not have the resources to pay for expensive and long-term storage.

The absence of a dedicated budget to care for public artworks continues to place the council’s collection at risk, “impeding its future development for public enjoyment and appreciation of this valuable public collection”, he wrote.

As for Trace, with some pieces missing, it’s unclear what will become of it. “At present they are in storage and with all I have going on it is not an urgent priority although of course it is important,” says Ó Cuiv.

Weir says that she’s content that her work stood for 25 years at St Stephen’s Green. “The theme of the work had to do with marks or traces from different times and sources set within the architecture of the city,” she said, by email.

“So I’m happy to make way for new artistic interventions and see other marks being made in the city landscape,” she said.

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Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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at 22 November 2017 at 10:07

Absolutely shocking that an early work by one of the country’s greatest living artists should disappear like that, & all just for cars to get their way as usual!!!

at 27 November 2017 at 14:51

Surely there are any number of places they could put it? Like, why not plop it IN Stephen’s Green (or any park, for that matter)? Or on a pedestrianised street, or else a bit further out of the city? This attitude doesn’t make much sense to me!

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