Not since a sculptor forgot a key part of Claudius’ anatomy has the art world so seriously threatened the reputation of a political leader.
The scandal began – and this is the first time in the history of written language these words have been written together – with the by-election for the Seanad’s Education and Cultural Committee, a grouping with such a low profile it makes the Freemasons look like the Kardashians.
The short-list for selection included John McNulty, a Fine Gael supporter who just so happens to have been recently appointed to the Board of Directors of
the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).
The political opposition cried foul, alleging that Fine Gael had appointed their man to a state board in order to boost his chances of being elected to the Committee, where he would, presumably, destroy both education and culture from the inside.
It was the sort of political stroke that would have the people of Hong Kong putting down their umbrellas and going back inside to watch Sky Sports.
It was also the first time the worlds of Irish politics and art had collided since naked paintings of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen were mischievously hung in the National Gallery.
In the government’s defence, there was clear logic in what they did. IMMA is a beautiful building inhabited by bizarre objects the public struggle to understand. In that respect, it is surely the perfect training ground for Seanad Éireann.
The government did everything it could to defend their candidate’s credentials to be on the board of the country’s leading modern art museum, just stopping short of holding a press conference dressed as cubes on an unmade bed.
They got no sympathy from journalists, however, most of whom had been in foul humour all week having been omitted from a PR company’s press release about Ireland’s most influential Twitter users.
The government also got it in the neck from the public, who spent the week in a blind panic questioning what impact all of this would have on the final days of the major retrospective exhibition of the work of renowned Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica.
Budget cuts, the property tax and water charges didn’t lead to mass demonstrations but, by God, a threat to the future direction of cubism would.
The government was forced to clarify its position: the whole thing had been a mistake, although the timing of the appointment had merely been a coincidence.
The Minister for Arts said she regretted the controversy, which is political code for saying she regretted the media coverage it had generated.
Enda apologised for a coincidence that wasn’t a stroke even if it was a mistake. It was all the fault of somebody in HQ but Enda said he would not be fingering them, a dastardly scenario which the person in question had probably never even contemplated.
Faced with a baying mob of hacks and a public questioning whether they can ever truly believe in the purity of installation-based minimalist art ever again, McNulty resigned from IMMA and withdrew from the Seanad race.
Unfortunately for him, however, by the time he withdrew many Fine Gael politicians had already voted for him. This may yet leave us in the bizarre situation of having an elected member of the Oireachtas who does not want to be there, as opposed to the usual situation of having an elected member of the Oireachtas the public does not want to be there. At least Fine Gael can claim some movement in their ‘democratic revolution’.
Incredibly, the scandal of the modern art museum and the obscure Seanad committee now threatens the future of the government, with some leading Ministers apparently so unhappy that they preparing a heave against their boss.
Sensationally, the Irish Museum of Modern Art may yet take down a Taoiseach.
Should that happen, the Irish public will certainly have earned the title of being a sophisticated electorate.