Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago

Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago
Robert Fagan. Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia, c. 1801. Private collection

Ten years in the making, the new exhibition Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design opens at 10 a.m. tomorrow on the steps of the Art Institute with a green ribbon-cutting ceremony that includes local and Irish dignitaries and bagpipes for St. Patrick’s Day (details at the bottom of this post).

The major exhibition, the first of its kind on either side of the Atlantic, takes visitors on a “grand tour” of the Emerald Isle encompassing over 300 objects representing 24 of Ireland’s 32 counties with a special emphasis on Dublin.

Organized thematically in 10 galleries – from portraiture to landscapes, from Dublin to the Irish country house – the exhibition celebrates the Irish as artists, collectors, and patrons.

The exhibition begins in1690, the year of the Battle of the Boyne, and ends in 1840, a few years before the onset of the Great Famine.

A series of “Made in Ireland” galleries feature objects in all media highlighting Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Waterford as centers of production and consumption, and include amateur arts such as needlework and cut paper.

John Egan. Portable Harp, c. 1820. The O’Brien Collection. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics

John Egan. Portable Harp, c. 1820. The O’Brien Collection. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics

Galleries explore the harp as a symbol of Ireland; portraiture in Ireland; Dublin as a center of government, commerce, and education; Irish landscapes and tourism; and architecture.

According to Christopher Monkhouse, Eloise W. Martin Chair and Curator, European Decorative Arts who organized the exhibition, Dublin, sometimes thought to be a “second city” to  London is second to none when it comes to its architecture—not unlike Chicago.

The exhibition showcases the Irish country house with particular attention to Carton House, County Kildare, and Headfort House, County Meath.

The Irish love to tell stories—and now through this exhibition, many of their stories have come to life.

If you have the time, it is well worth taking the audio tour, where you will learn many of the stories behind the objects. You won’t want to miss the story of Venus Genetrix (315) from the 2nd century A.D. who spent many years under water until she landed at the Getty Museum and now at the Art Institute.

When you first enter the exhibition, make sure you take note of the large “Irish Elk” Antlers that welcome visitors—just as you would find in many Irish country houses. They, too, have an interesting story and a local connection as they were discovered right here in the Windy City at the American College of Surgeons.

The exhibition offers a full immersion into Ireland’s creative legacy from the art to the music–even providing an opportunity to stop by the specially created Caffe Moderno on the second floor of the Modern Wing overlooking Griffen Court for a pint of Guinness and chocolate cupcakes with Bailey’s Irish Cream icing.

There is even Irish music to go along with the exhibition. The museum commissioned Liz Carroll and a group of Irish musicians to write original Irish music that can be heard in the gallery, the audio guide and is for sale on a CD in the gift shop.

The exhibition, Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, continues through June 7, 2015, providing an extraordinarily rich overview of Ireland.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Special guests, including Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan, will join Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute, to cut the green ribbon on the exhibition Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840 at 10 a.m. Other local dignitaries who have been invited are Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Archbishop Blase Cupich, Irish Consul General Aidan Cronin, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Cook Country president Toni Preckwinkle.

Following the short ceremony, a bagpiper will lead the guests and visitors through the museum to the doors of the exhibition.

The first 100 people to line up for entrance into the museum Tuesday morning will receive free admission. Doors to the museum will open at 10:30, at the end of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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