Greetings from Chicago

As some readers are no doubt aware, in the coming days the exhibition ‘Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840’ opens at Chicago’s Art Institute. Featuring more than 300 items including painting, sculpture, and furniture as well as bookbinding, ceramics, glass, metalwork, musical instruments and textiles, the  show is a celebration of the country’s cultural achievements during what has come to be known as the long eighteenth century. An exhibition of this kind has never been held anywhere before and all the items are on loan from private and public American collections: a reflection of how much of Ireland’s heritage has been lost to its country of origin. Over the next week the Irish Aesthete will be posting every day from Chicago and featuring a succession of the exhibits. To begin, here is how the show itself starts: a wall covered with one of James Fennell’s marvellous panoramic photographs offering a view of County Wicklow from the steps of Russborough.

4 comments on “Greetings from Chicago

  1. Looks good Robert and looking forward to your forthcoming posts on the show – sorry to miss it !
    If you can send me a visual of my other large photo of Russborough facade that would be great – Have fun, James.

  2. Nick Heywood says:

    It is unfortunate that so much of Ireland’s history is lost to other countries, but perhaps all to the better given the stories of neglect in Ireland that you so rightly rail against. Whatever regard I have for the US is nuanced, and it can often be hard to be an American, but if nothing else these objects are very safe here. A quick search of the number of Irish in America led to this gem: “According to the Census, there are 34.5 million Americans who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That number is, incidentally, seven times larger than the population of Ireland itself (4.68 million).” Several of my Irish American friends in Chicago have already told me excitedly about this show, and it is possible the show will be more heavily attended in Chicago than it would be in Ireland itself. Sad, but true.

    On a tangent: I grew up visiting the Oriental Institute in Chicago, which has holdings excavated from Northern Iraq in the early 20th century — far removed from Iraq and deeply loved in Chicago. I used to feel a certain guilt that some of the finest cultural output of Iraq fills a tiny museum at the University of Chicago, but no longer. Cultural patrimony is elastic, and as preferable as it is to view objects in their original setting, I would rather these parts of our collective human history survive anywhere than perish.

    I grant this is an extreme example, but the question of cultural patrimony is much on my mind these days. Placehood has value, but more and more I feel survival trumps all.

    • Thank you for your observations, with which – regrettably – one cannot but agree: when the country of origin cannot appreciate its own heritage, better that the latter travel elsewhere than be lost altogether. And yes, seemingly already the show, only days after opening, is attracting strong interest and attendance. One must hope this will have beneficial repercussions back home…

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