Summer 2019 Publisher's Letter – Stewardship: Will art be What Remains?

Notre Dame seen in 2007 when CGN's publisher visited Paris on a trip with her mother.


On an early Tuesday afternoon in Chicago, one week before this magazine was due at the printer, it was evening in Paris. About 30 minutes before word came that a fire was ravaging the city’s famed 850 year old Notre Dame Cathedral, I had just completed and posted an article on CGN’s website to mark the 30th anniversary of another fire, one that, on April 15, 1989 levelled a city block in Chicago’s River North, destroying nine galleries, and forever altering the lives and careers of many more artists.

The timing of the shocking news from Paris, especially in the context of a local fire still clearly recalled by many in our art community, made me think about two elements that primarily draw people to art: that it is beautiful to behold, and that it may contain insights or represent treasures that will outlive us. When art, or a significant place, that moves us, is physically eradicated, it is heartbreaking. This continues to be the case where Chicago’s Great Gallery Fire is concerned. Though most of the affected galleries managed to reopen, nothing could replace the countless works of art and scores of critical records destroyed by the blaze, not to mention the dozens of artistic careers that were so abruptly and permanently disrupted.

In these early days following the fire at Notre Dame, while some damage scenarios are not as dire as they seemed initially – there was no loss of life, and the destruction was not total – it’s clear that the structure will never be as it originally was, and it will perhaps take decades, and untold sums, to complete a restoration of the building and its contents. Even for one of the world’s most documented structures, some things are gone forever. Many people will never behold the cathedral with its original roof beams and Gothic spire.

The similarities between the Paris and Chicago fires that so rapidly incinerated artistic treasures, spooked me, but I was able to consider another interview I was completing for this issue, a profile of Vicki Granacki and Lee Wesley, collectors who have amassed more than 125 works of art in their home. Vicki and I discussed the idea of stewardship when it comes to art, since she has held a distinguished career in historic preservation. As she put it, “I’ve always thought especially about being a steward of the historic buildings that we live, work, and worship in. They were built by our ancestors, and if we care for them kindly and properly, will be enjoyed by our descendants.”

I wondered, what about when we outlive the art and architecture that we care for? Does that care end with the existance of the art or structure? In addition to embracing our instincts to restore and resurrect, it seems important to think beyond physical, even archival, preservation and consider conceptual stewardship, since meanings and interpretations change from generation to generation. Perhaps the art and structures we hold dear at one time will never truly be lost, since time enables change, and future generations may even see what we never did.