is entitled to his or her own opinion, but an art
critic even more so. With that in mind, Inga Saffron,
the Inquirers Architecture critic, took the
bit between her teeth and delivered a stinging critique
of the Irish Memorial just in time for St. Patricks
Skyline Memorial a blight on Irish suffering,
Despite spending her formative years as
a reporter in Dublin, Saffron doesnt seem to
have any real understanding of how Irish Americans
see themselves. She asks, What would America
be without its 40 million citizens of Irish descent?,
and answers: Because of them, we celebrate St.
Patrick's Day almost as a national holiday. You don't
have to be Irish to wear green or enjoy a pint of
that where America would be without the Irish
a country without St. Patrick's Day, wearing green,
or drinking Guinness?
review is perfectly timed to provoke maximum outrage
among the Irish. Saffron says, For me, the holiday
(St. Patrick's Day) is an excuse for some journalistic
opportunism. Indeed it is.
The Irish in Philadelphia are justifiably proud of
their new monument. It was built with monies raised
during a seven year-long period of commemoration marking
the 150th anniversary of the mass starvation in Ireland,
As an architecture critic, Ms. Saffron has no-doubt
heard of Louis Sullivan, the influential, Boston-born
architect, and mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. He summed
up his philosophy in three words: Form follows
Glenna Goodacres Irish Memorial sculpture adheres
to that philosophy. It allows the Irish to remember
where they came from, and how they arrived in Philadelphia.
Their ancestors lived through religious and racial
discrimination, impoverishment by law, artificial
famine, widespread eviction, mass burials, absentee
landlordism, commodity exports during a subsistence
crisis, a coffin ship exodus, ship-board privation,
burials at sea, skin-of-our-teeth survival, and finally,
rebirth in a new world. That is the sculptures
function, and from that it takes its form.
Inga Saffrons philosophy is that, Good
art, like good journalism, gives you the news.
What does that mean, exactly? Obviously she is looking
for something abstract enough to challenge her hard-won
intellectual aesthetics. Instead, she is confronted
by a visceral and evocative monument to historical
truth. Saffron attacks Goodacres work for its
clumsy literalness, and simple-minded
sentimentality. In fact, she takes exception
to nearly every aspect of the Memorial, calling it
a sub-par public sculpture, with no
new creative insights, populist kitsch,
and simply, bad art. The only good thing
Saffron can bring herself to say about Goodacre's
work is that it contains one kernel of an idea,
but one which she hits you over the head with.
What is that one idea?
says that Goodacre, conflates the famine and
the exodus into one swirling composition
figures merge from graveyard to ship's deck, their
suffering is transformed into salvation, a fundamental
that is the main idea, which even a child can grasp.
In one work of sculpture, the Irish move from famine
graveyard, to transatlantic voyage, to disembarkation
in Philadelphia. The idea is brilliant, well executed,
and it works. Of course, it doesnt work for
everyone. People have to connect to a work of art,
and it matters greatly what the individual brings
to the meeting.
Saffron has brought a steamer trunk full of attitude
to the job. She apparently finds the monument so pedestrian,
predictable, and banal that the viewer doesnt
get a chance to extract his own meaning from
the work and so, you glance at it quickly
and walk on, unenlightened.
only she had realized that her failure to connect
with the sculpture was due to reasons all her own,
she might have continued on, unenlightened, until
she found something that inspired her to write.
she has done, is to write a callous and uncaring critique
of a simple monument to Irelands national tragedy
on our national holiday. She was trying to cut to
the bone, and she got there. She writes as if her
aesthetics were in conflict with a chunk of metal
and thats all. At one point she describes a
part of the sculpture where a young boy kneeling
by his mother with an outstretched, withered hand.
She write: cue the violins.
the Irish who remember, and there are no other kind,
the monument she self-righteously disparages represents
the uncounted heads of many innocent victims flung
into mass graves. She would never dare to malign a
monument to any other human holocaust or genocide
or human rights disaster, using such caustic, careless
terms. Such hard-hearted callousness was widespread
during Irelands tragedy.
ask: Is the Goodacre - designed memorial really, a
blight on Irish suffering, or is it Inga Saffrons
insensitive and wrong-headed review?
Mullin drafted the
first Irish Famine Curriculum and is a Past Member,
New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education
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