Niamh O'Malley: Window, Palazzo delle Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy, May 2005 – 2006

Niamh O'Malley: Window , 2005, installation shot, Palazzo Piccolomini 'delle Papesse'; courtesy the artist

Niamh O'Malley is a Dublin-based artist who has been steadily building an international reputation since completing a fellowship at P.S. 1 MoMA, New York, in 2004. Her work is an interesting hybrid of traditional painting and video art in which art and nature are fused by the superimposition of moving video images of trees, parks, the sky, birds or people ( The dene, vignette , P.S.1 MoMA, New York, 2004 ) over a single, static, hand-painted image. Recently O'Malley was selected for the ongoing programme of installations in the bookshop of Siena's Palazzo delle Papesse.   Initiated by Director Marco Pierini in 2002, Leni Hoffmann's kukkuruz was followed by art books chosen by artists by Luca Pancrazzi in 2004. O'Malley is the third artist invited to interpret the space.

Situated on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance of the Palazzo Piccolomini 'delle Papesse'(1460-1495) [1], the bookshop is a spacious room lined with bookshelves and a single long window facing onto the Via di Cittá. O'Malley, who has used windows as a framing device since 2000 ( Window , British School of Rome ), has represented the real window of the bookshop in a work (also entitled Window ) situated on the opposite wall over shelves of catalogues, books and contemporary-art magazines. The painted window is almost the exact replica of the real one and depicts a dark, dramatic sky of grey / black "Tiepolo-like" [2] clouds over which a video shows the   familiar sight (in Siena) of small birds swooping, swerving and diving in groups. Within a couple of minutes the film 'dissolves', presenting the spectator with a novel form of   trompe l'oeil: the surprise of realising that the 'window' is in fact a painting. Visitors often re-view the work a second time in order to verify the perception.

O'Malley remarks: "My work often involves a double framing, in other words, a marked and intended representation of the real production, an acknowledged representation of a representation." [3] O'Malley's ability to animate a given space, whether a gallery or, as here a commercial area, and at the same time attract the interest and attention of the viewer in an unexpected way, demonstrates a sophisticated artistic vision. It is no surprise to learn that she earned a practice-led Ph.D. from the University of Ulster entitled Repositioning the Landscape Viewer: Investigating Models of Appreciation and Visual Representation , in 2003. What makes her work so engaging and thought-provoking is the relatively modest but skilful means employed together with a playful, unobtrusive tone which successfully invites the attention of a broad range of spectators.

Brenda Moore-McCann is a recent Government of Ireland Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and a member of AICA Ireland; she is currently writing a book on the art of Patrick Ireland (a.k.a. Brian O'Doherty).


[1] Designed by Florentine architect Bernardo Rossellino, it was the residence of Caterina Piccolomini, sister of Pope Pius II. It opened as a centre for contemporary art in 1998.
[2] Artist quote in conversation, October 2005
[3] e-mail interview with the author, July 2005