Business Irish

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Statue got sex change as ex-billionaire Ronan didn’t want naked man on Treasury building

Cormac Murphy

Published 27/11/2012 | 12:34

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ONE of the capital's best known sculptures had to undergo a "sex change" because former billionaire Johnny Ronan objected to a "naked man climbing up the wall" outside his office.

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A dream commission for artist Rowan Gillespie was significantly altered after an inspection by former billionaire Johnny Ronan.

The fibre glass sculpture was commissioned to take pride of place on the wall of Treasury Building on Dublin’s Canal Street, the company that built the office block.

It was a major coup for artist Rowan Gillespie from Blackrock and once he was commissioned for the work in 1995 he set to work on the design.

But during a follow-up meeting with Mr Ronan - when the sculptures design was revealed - things didn’t go exactly to plan.

With a miniature version in hand, Mr Gillespie marched confidently into the developer’s massive office in Treasury Building and showed him the work in progress.

But Mr Ronan’s initial enthusiasm soon soured when he examined it more closely.

Recalling the presentation, the artist said: “I went into his office with (the original version) and put it on the floor and he looked at it. I could see that he liked it immediately.

“Then, as he looked more closely, his face fell.”

The then tycoon was less than enthused at the prospect of a “naked man climbing up the wall” outside his office window, according to Mr Gillespie.

He said, ‘There’s no way I want a naked man climbing up the wall -- change it to a woman’.”

Mr Gillespie, who lives in Blackrock, Co Dublin, said Mr Ronan was “adamant” the sculpture be changed.

But Mr Gillespie had no problem taking his tools to the sculpture's anatomy and believes the finished version is a big improvement on his original idea.

“I was very open to changing it to a woman anyway,” he revealed.

He was first drawn to making it a man because “the concept of it scaling the wall seemed to be a very male thing to do”.

But the changes “updated the sculpture enormously”, making it was a better piece, Mr Gillespie said.

Mr Ronan was “thrilled” with the finished work, he added.

When the sculptor received a cheque from Treasury for the work, it was accompanied by a note which read simply: “She is beautiful.”

At the time he was commissioned by Mr Ronan, he did not know the developer.

“I remember when he phoned me about the commission. It was late one evening at about 10pm. I thought this guy was joking. I thought it was a wind up,” Mr Gillespie said.

The building itself was built in 1995 on the site of Boland's Mills – a key location during the 1916 Rising.

It was used by Fianna Fail as a headquarters for the party's general election campaign in 2007 and now houses NAMA. The company wanted the sculpture, titled Aspiration, to commemorate the country's struggle for freedom.

With this in mind, the figure climbing the wall was a metaphor for Ireland.

An original miniature model of the sculpture -- about 12 inches in height -- went under the hammer at Whyte's art auction in Dublin last night but did not sell, with the

The death knell sounded for Mr Ronan's Treasury Holdings in October as KBC Bank Ireland's winding-up petition, supported by the National Asset Management Agency, went through unopposed.

NAMA-appointed liquidators and receivers are now trying to achieve some value for taxpayers and the shareholders of KBC from the company's assets.

Mr Ronan has numerous separate business interests, including, along with business partner Richard Barrett, a near 30pc share of Treasury China Trust, a substantial listed property company in Asia.

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