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Crawford Profiles: Matthew Whyte

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Matthew Whyte

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Cork, where I currently live along the banks of the River Lee.

What do you do at Crawford Art Gallery?
I work as a Facilitator in the Crawford Art Gallery.

Briefly describe your typical working day
My work in the Crawford revolves around people so it is always new and challenging. I lead tours of the collection for a variety of different groups—schools, corporate groups, and so on—and contribute an art historical theme to public and private events held in the gallery. The Crawford collection is wonderfully diverse, so there is always an opportunity to isolate specific themes and use the artworks to weave together stories about the collection, the artists, and the history of the artworks. My job centres on direct contact with artworks, so I use this opportunity to highlight to others the many layers of meaning instilled by artists in their work, from the broadest subject to the smallest details of the brush or chisel. In my other work, my days revolve around researching Italian Renaissance sculpture and lecturing in Art History at University College Cork.

What do you like the most about working at Crawford Art Gallery?
It's so hard to pinpoint one thing! I suppose the diversity is something that really stands out. Every visitor to the Crawford I encounter brings something new to the space.

I enjoy the discussions that take place in front of the works; a fascinating question or a small detail of information can cast a work in a new light. The variety in the collection also contributes to this diversity, and it is wonderful to move from one century to another, across a variety of media, and see how different people respond. Individual taste makes this such an interesting activity, and I really enjoy seeing the contemporary art enthusiasts become engrossed in the story of an antique sculpture! Being able to work directly with art objects is also wonderful, especially in the context of education. There is something so alive about an artwork when it’s experienced in the flesh.

Do you have a favourite artwork, exhibition or gallery space?
I have always been particularly drawn to sculpture: my everyday life revolves around looking closely at sculptures! My favourite artwork in the collection is Cupid and Psyche by Edward Ambrose (1840). It's a small piece, showing a moment from Ovid's Metamorphoses in which Psyche, having sneaked into Cupid's bedchamber, first catches a glimpse of her beloved before dripping wax on his shoulder, causing him to awake and disappear. The small size makes the piece very accessible and invites close inspection. I always marvel at how sculptors achieve such a sense of warmth using cold, white marble; the transition from the rough base to the smooth flesh gives the two protagonists a living presence. While sometimes large-scale sculptures can appear quite grand and remote, there is something very sweet and familiar about the little faces of Cupid and Psyche. The innocent dreaminess of Cupid, the wonder in Psyche's expression, the way the wax candle hovers above, forgotten as she moves her face inexorably closer to Cupid's—these features are all so real and relatable for the viewer. You can have a closer look at the sculpture in 3D here.

Do you remember the first time you visited the gallery?
I don't remember the first time I ever visited, but I remember my first visit after having begun to study art history. I have a memory of seeing the Canova Casts and being immediately struck by these sculptures that are at the very beginning of Western art. I remember wondering how and when these came to be in Cork. Another experience that stands out for me is visiting Dr. Michael Waldron's wonderful exhibition Samuel Forde: Visions of Tragedy as part of a research project on exhibition display. Forde's Fall of the Rebel Angels captivated me then and still manages to command the room with its dark colours and stormy movement!

What do you think people might be surprised to learn about the gallery?
I think that the change in function and land use associated with the gallery is a source of surprise for people who were not aware of the building's history. Seeing the building as the old Customs House in John Butt's 1750 View of Cork from Audley Place helps visitors to place the Crawford within the context of Cork's maritime history.

Watch Matthew explain how our historic Canova casts came from Pope to Prince to the Port of Cork in the video series ‘Sculpture Stories’ here.

Emmett Place, Cork, Ireland
T12 TNE6
Tel: 021 480 5042

Opening Hours
N.B. Last entry is 15 minutes before closing

Monday–Saturday 10.00am–5.00pm*
Thursday until 8.00pm

Sundays and Bank Holidays
11.00 am4.00pm

*Second floor closes 15 minutes before closing
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