Worst Public Art: Irish Famine Memorial

George Fifield nominates Boston’s Irish Famine Memorial for our Worst Public Art in New England project (submit your own nominations):

It’s the Irish Famine Memorial, no question. It’s the most cheezy memorial to a human tragedy in Boston. As I remember … the “benefactor” Thomas J. Flatley basically ramrodded the process through City Hall without due diligence that legally, public sculpture usually went through. The two tableaus make no sense. Are the healthy family the before or after? Why are they (the after) shoeless? Why did the little girl turn into a boy?

Artistically it marks an embarrassing visual statement. The “Disney” realism is a joke. Remember this is the same artist who made the F.A.O Swartz Teddy Bear, now in front of the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center. And that was not only a decent sculpture for what it was, but also had a plaque, when it was at F.A.O Swartz, declaring it not to be public art, but private art.

Christine Temin said it “reduces a great tragedy to a sentimental cartoon.”

The Polish horse riders on the commons, by Pitynski were great art compared to this atrocity and that was removed for being too depressing.

We at The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research would also like to nominate Maurice Harron’s Irish Famine Memorial on Cambridge Common (pictured below).

6 Responses to “Worst Public Art: Irish Famine Memorial”

  1. donna dodson says:

    I agree the Polish riders were a successful piece of public art in that they evoked real emotion. but I’m not sure how appropriate they were to the Boston Public Garden site. Pieces like ‘Make way for the ducklings’ and FAO schwartz teddy bear have more relevance to their site as well as popular appeal.

  2. [...] Polish suffering that had graced Boston Commons for a quarter-century was abruptly moved; some claim because it was too [...]

  3. Paul says:

    I am admittedly not an art critic, but I don’t understand what is “cheezy” about the Famine memorial. Also, what is the “Disney realism,” and what makes it a “sentimental cartoon?” What, specifically, makes it “artistically” an “embarassing visual statement?” I’ve seen the sculptures scores of times, and when I stop to look at them, they always impress upon me the absolutely tragic nature of the famine. What is it that I should be feeling? Is there any objectivity to these criticisms or is it simply enough to throw these emperor’s-new-clothes criticisms at it and hope everyone sees how enlightened you are.

    To address Fifield’s question about why the “after” family is shoeless: 1) apparently the two tableaus were not as unclear as Fifield himself suggested; 2) The man is wearing shoes or perhaps boots; people, and in particular, women and children, often went shoeless/bootless in the 19th and into the 20th centuries, at least in the warmer months. Yes, even in America. If you are prepared to criticize a piece of art in purely artistic terms, great, but it helps to have a better sense of history if you are to criticize on historical accuracy terms.

    Also, when referring to Boston Common, most natives either call it “the Common” or “Boston Common,” not the Commons.

    I’m not sure about the “girl turning into a boy,” but it’s possible that the two families are different families, no? One remains in Ireland, while the other were able to escape.

    I think it’s odd that the N.E. Journal of Aesthetic Research chooses another Irish famine memorial (on Cambridge Common) as an object of criticism. Honestly, neither memorial strikes me as particularly amazing art. But to me (and many others like me, I’m sure) they serve to remind me of an important historical event. Perhaps I am being overly-sensitive as an Irish-American, but it seems odd to nominate two Irish Famine memorials as subjects of criticism (which seems to be lacking in substance).

  4. Paddy says:

    The girl didn’t turn into a boy. She went hungry and died. Like one and a half million other people in that tragedy. The other family (with the boy) represent the other 1.5 million people who fled the famine and found a home here. Their descendants thought it might be nice to honor the hundreds of thousands who weren’t so lucky. Glad you find the whole thing amusing.

  5. Michael says:

    The critic must be from across the Irish Sea. The memorial is a touching and eloquent monument to the millions of Irishmen crushed by the unfeeling British machine. It is disrespectful to belittle such a well thought out and realistic sculpture before having truly tried to understand it.

  6. Heather says:

    eh…I’m Irish…the British didn’t bring the famine, genius. anyways, thats besides the point. the first statues shown i thought were reflecting the destain of the richer protestants towards the poor catholics. it looked to me as if the catholic kids were poor and starving and crying out to the other kids for help them, but the other kids look to be resentful and even disgusted by them. maybe I’m wrong.