• Our Lady of the World’s Fair

    Our Lady of the World’s Fair reveals the remarkable story of how two of New York’s most influential leaders persuaded the Vatican to allow one of the world’s greatest works of art to leave Europe for the first and only time. Driven by different motives, Robert Moses and Francis Cardinal Spellman had the same vision: to display Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Pietà, in the Vatican’s pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.

    Moses believed this blockbuster would guarantee the fair’s financial success. At the same time, Spellman, Archbishop of New York and the spiritual leader of Cold War America’s Catholic community, hoped that at a time of domestic strife and global conflict, the Pietà‘s presence would have a positive spiritual impact on the nation. Although the fair did not turn out to be the financial bonanza that Moses expected, the Pietà drew record crowds of the faithful, art lovers, and the curious.

    The uncovering of the intensive planning that went into designing the pavilion, transporting the art piece across the Atlantic, and coordinating Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York in 1965—the first papal visit to the Western Hemisphere—demonstrates the sheer scale and opportunity of the two men’s endeavors. Our Lady of the World’s Fair depicts the skepticism and fierce criticism that faced the two New York power brokers. Rather than letting the negative weigh them down, they united and called on every resource at their disposal to make this unlikely cultural coup possible.

    Ruth D. Nelson received her MA in Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For her thesis research on the Marquette Building in Chicago, she received the Corning Museum of Glass Rakow Research Grant. In 2018, Ruth was selected as a State of Illinois Humanities Council Road Scholar. Ruth teaches art history in the continuing education department of the College of DuPage and continues her research and writing on topics in American art history.