The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Monumental Misrepresentaion

James Mullin • 15 March 2004

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but an art critic even more so. With that in mind, Inga Saffron, the Inquirer’s Architecture critic, took the bit between her teeth and delivered a stinging critique of the Irish Memorial just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. (“Changing Skyline Memorial a blight on Irish suffering”, 3/12/04)


Despite spending her “formative years” as a reporter in Dublin, Saffron doesn’t 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 Guinness.”

Is that where America would be without the Irish – a country without St. Patrick's Day, wearing green, or drinking Guinness?

Her 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, 1845-1852.

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 function”.

Glenna Goodacre’s 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 sculpture’s function, and from that it takes its form.

Inga Saffron’s 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 Goodacre’s 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?

Saffron says that Goodacre, “conflates the famine and the exodus into one swirling composition…As the figures merge from graveyard to ship's deck, their suffering is transformed into salvation, a fundamental Christian theme.”

Yes, 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 doesn’t work for everyone. People have to connect to a work of art, and it matters greatly what the individual brings to the meeting.

Unfortunately, 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 doesn’t get “a chance to extract his own meaning from the work” and so, “you glance at it quickly and walk on, unenlightened.”

If 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.

What she has done, is to write a callous and uncaring critique of a simple monument to Ireland’s 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 that’s 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”.

For 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 Ireland’s tragedy.

We ask: Is the Goodacre - designed memorial really, “a blight on Irish suffering”, or is it Inga Saffron’s insensitive and wrong-headed review?

 

James Mullin drafted the first Irish Famine Curriculum and is a Past Member, New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education

 


 


 

 

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All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles



28 March 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Trials Under the Shadow of Irish Emergency Laws
Marianne Quoirin

 

Sinn Fein A Dictatorship: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre

 

How to Get to 2016
Brian Mór

 

Desert Pong

Eamonn McCann

 

Reading the Future from the Past
Mick Hall

 

Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
Brian Kelly

 

No Promise, No Hope?
Danielle Ni Dhighe

 

25 March 2004

 

Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
Seaghán Ó Murchú

 

For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
Breandán Morley

 

Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

Eamonn McCann

 

Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
Mick Hall

 

Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre

 

In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney

 

Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo

 

Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
Cédric Gouverneur

 

 

 

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