I wrote to the Garda Press Office about this insane business, but that was two days ago and I originally intended to write something about the nature of the works in question. However, we now discover that the Gardai have gone beyond simply investigating the incident, and have questioned an artist, Conor Casby, about painting pictures and putting them in art galleries.
How about that?
Artists putting pictures in galleries. What next?
The Gardai, who are constantly reminding us of their arduous workload, consider it a priority to enter an artist’s home, confiscate his paintings, question him about placing two pictures in art galleries and then forward a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
How about that?
This is at a time when crime gangs are machine-gunning each other on our streets and bankers are robbing us blind, but the Gardai see it as their priority to question a real artist while the country is being destroyed by con-artists.
That’s the kind of work our police force considers useful.
Because one overweight, pig-ugly politician, Brian Cowen, decided he didn’t like the caricatures made of him by an artist, our supposedly non-political police force entered an artist’s home, questioned him about a non-crime and stole his artistic work. They also raided a radio station with which the artist had been in contact, informing the staff in the process that the â€œpowers that beâ€ wanted something done.
In other words, Cowen sent his uniformed goons to intimidate a critic.
Now look. Somebody like Cowen can’t be caricatured. He’s a living caricature of himself, and even a photograph of him could be considered offensive.
When we contacted the Garda Press Office, they were reluctant to get into specifics about the investigation, which I could understand, and in fairness to the Garda who answered my query, I suspect that he privately considered the whole thing as ludicrous as everyone else does, so I’m not qoing to name him, because I think he was doing his best with a bad situation.
Instead, I’ll just give you the exchange of emails with the Garda’s clarification of his private opinion in its entirety.
Bock: I understand from RTE news reports that an Garda Siochana is making inquiries after two portraits of an Taoiseach were left in Dublin art galleries.
We intend to write an article on this incident, and I was wondering if you could help. In particular, while we can see how a person might be breaking the law by removing a painting from an art gallery, we have difficulty understanding how it might be possible to break the law by leaving a painting inside a gallery.
Given that an Garda Siochana is reported to be investigating the incident, it would be extremely helpful if you could shed light on the legislative basis for a possible prosecution in such cases.
Garda: We can confirm that such an inquiry is taking place but we would not speculate as to possible legislative breaches in relation to an ongoing inquiry.
Bock: Thank you very much for your prompt reply. Obviously I would not write about the specifics of an ongoing inquiry but I was wondering in general what law exists making it an offence to place a painting in a gallery. Could you point me towards the legislative basis for such an offence in a general sense?
Again I can only say that we would not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Garda: It is my personal opinion that there would be no specific legislation governing the placing of an unauthorised painting in the gallery and that the offence would exist in the manner in which the painting was placed e.g trespass, criminal damage, offensiveness of item displayed etc.
Bock: Again may I thank you for responding promptly and I do appreciate how difficult it is to comment without getting involved in the specifics of a case, so I certainly wouldn’t attempt to go down that route. It would be better to stick to generalities.
I didn’t know that there was legislation covering the offensiveness of paintings, and I thank you for this information. The article we write will probably be concerned with this aspect of the matter.
Would the legislation relating to the offensiveness of paintings relate to all paintings or would it be limited to recent paintings? For example, it occurs to me that a painting made in the 19th century might have to be removed from a gallery if it was assessed as offensive. Clearly, this could lead to difficulty with work currently on display in many galleries, both in Ireland and internationally.
I personally considered the work of Hierionymus Bosch to be particularly violent and explicit in many ways, yet his main body of work was produced in the 15th century. On the basis of the information you have provided, it would seem that paintings by Bosch or, for instance, Salvador Dali, might be considered offensive and subject to prosecution.
You certainly raise interesting issues about art that I was not aware of up to now.
Garda : The reason that I did not want to get into specifics re possible breaches of legislation is because of the possible interpretation of what I have said.
There is no legislation specifically governing offensiveness of paintings but rather the display of offensive material as outlined in a recent public order/criminal justice act.
I am not aware of the exact circumstances of what was displayed re Brian Cowen or indeed what was actually displayed and I was merely outlining, in the broadest sense, what may possibly constitute an offense in this case.
To be honest, it would be ludicrous to suggest that art (in general) could be liable to prosecution with regards to offensiveness and I would not like to be attributed to any suggestion that it would.
If you wish to see what legislation is outlined in that act by all means you should look it up.
Also, if you wish to discuss this further, for reasons of clarity, please do not hesitate to contact me on 01 6662071.
As you can see, this Garda is a reasonable, helpful and intelligent man, and I fully accept his reminder that he did not suggest art could be liable to prosecution.
I followed the Garda press office’s advice about looking up the areas of law mentioned in the kind policeman’s replies to me.
Incitement to hatred is defined as follows:
"hatred" means hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.
Therefore, ridiculing an individual because of their appearance is outside the scope of the Incitement to Hatred Act. It’s a bit disappointing that the Garda didn’t seem to know this.
Criminal damage. Well, driving a nail into a wall is so trivial that it’s beneath the attention of the law and would be laughed out of court. To prosecute somebody for this would raise all sorts of questions about the lack of Garda action when citizens make complaints about genuine and serious criminal damage. It also raises questions about the common Garda disclaimer that they can’t act without a formal complaint from the injured party. I wonder if a gallery’s management would make a formal complaint against an artist for causing a pin-prick in a wall? I wonder what such a complaint would tell us about the people who run the gallery?
Trespass comes into play only if the artist was in the gallery without the intention of viewing the artworks. Likewise, it would require a formal complaint, and in any case this would be a trivialisation of the offence and a manufactured charge, designed to oppress. No court could determine what was in the artist’s mind when he entered the gallery, and he may well reasonably have had the intention to view the pictures on display and to contribute an artwork of his own, which is exactly what he did. Will they charge him with donating a picture to a gallery?
We’re left with the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which states as follows:
7.â€”(1) It shall be an offence for any person in a public place to distribute or display any writing, sign or visible representation which is threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace may be occasioned.
Now that is a worrying piece of legislation, but again, the crucial element is the intent to provoke a breach of the peace, and clearly the artist had no such intention.
However, the Public Order Act and the Criminal Justice Act are immensely flexible pieces of legislation, capable of being interpreted any way the police choose. That in itself would be worrying in a normal society, but when the police appear to have become an instrument of the government’s wishes, as in this case, it is more than worrying.
If any artist is prosecuted under this act, it will be because a politician has dictated that it should be so. The police bringing the charges will plainly be acting under political instructions, and that will be a truly sinister development.
All Bock posts here: Cowen Nude