A new exhibition, Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840, opened at the Art Institute of Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day and will remain on site until June 7. This is the first major exhibition to showcase the decorative and fine arts of 18th century Ireland, bringing together more than 300 objects – many never before seen in public – lent by public and private collectors across North America. The exhibition provides an extraordinarily rich overview of Ireland’s creative legacy. To add to the Gaelic atmosphere of the show, a temporary Irish pub has been created in the museum’s Café Moderno where guests can hoist a beer after they visit the exhibition.
The seeds for the exhibition were first planted by historian Desmond FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin, who in his 2007 book Irish Furniture outlined his vision for “a major exhibition on Ireland’s Decorative arts of the 18th century, which would include furniture [and] bring together the common threads of the different fields. … A show of this stature would waken up the world to a staggering array of art that was manufactured in Ireland during this period.”
Ireland expands on FitzGerald’s vision to also include paintings, sculpture and architecture as well as ceramics, glass, furniture, metalwork, musical instruments, and textiles. Such an exhibition has never before been undertaken on either side of the Atlantic.
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. Through this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, these often little-known and mostly privately held objects will be shown together for the first time.
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded as both a museum and school for the fine arts in 1879, a critical era in the history of Chicago as civic energies were devoted to rebuilding the metropolis that had been destroyed by the Great Fire of 1871. Its first collections consisting primarily of plaster casts, the Art Institute found its permanent home in 1893, when it moved into a building, constructed jointly with the city of Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street. That building, its entry flanked by the two famous bronze lions, remains the “front door” of the museum even today. In keeping with the academic origins of the institution, a research library was constructed in 1901; eight major expansions for gallery and administrative space have followed, with the latest being the Modern Wing, which opened in 2009. The permanent collection has grown from plaster casts to nearly 300,000 works of art in fields ranging from Chinese bronzes to contemporary design and from textiles to installation art. Together, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the museum of the Art Institute of Chicago are now internationally recognized as two of the leading fine-arts institutions in the United States.
The Art Institute of Chicago collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public and in accordance with our profession’s highest ethical standards and practices.