The primary purpose of triumphofcivicvirtue.org is to become the authoritative web resource for information about the Triumph of Civic Virtue. The website’s inception however, was spurred by recent efforts in mid 2012 to relocate the statue from its longstanding home of Kew Gardens into private ownership on the grounds of the Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn.
As you can read in the history section, the statue was a mayoral initiative, using money allocated for public benefit. Secondly, the Art Commission of the City of New York, advised by the Conservation Advisory Group, bears responsibility for maintaining the city’s art. Furthermore, the statue is on NYC Parks Department property. That agency has endeavored to repair the statue, but has been blocked by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). DCAS has issued this ambiguous statement concerning the statue. It has been well documented that unchecked physical deterioration has a deleterious effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Lastly, there is precedent for the city taking the initiative to restore controversial art (for likely a much higher bill than Triumph of Civic Virtue would require).
You can read more about its world-renowned sculptor, Frederick MacMonnies, in the history section. As an artist whose work adorns City Hall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, Grand Army Plaza, Meaux France, and others, there is little doubt that MacMonnies bears great importance and value in the art world, and that Triumph of Civic Virtue is one in a long line of masterfully done public works.
The statue was commissioned in 1909, finished in 1922, and moved to Kew Gardens in 1941. A detailed history can be found here.
The artist, Frederick William MacMonnies, was most readily associated with the Beaux-Arts school. This statue has been considered Neo-Classical by some, but both movements were considerably influenced by Greek and Roman antiquity, which is why the statue may seem familiar to one you have seen in a museum or art history book. The Triumph of Civic Virtue however, although it borrows several motifs from ancient marble sculptures, is in fact an original work of art.
Reports vary considerably. The most reliable estimate was made back in 1998, at about $900,000.
The short answer to this contentious question is “no.” The statue is not sexist.
Those special interest groups that have wished to see the statue removed have been shrilly decrying the statue as sexist since before it was every officially dedicated.
The sexism claim is spurious on a number of counts:
1) On a literal level, the figure of Civic Virtue is not physically stepping on the Corruption and Vice. They lay swarming around him. Furthermore, they are not in a state of subjugation, but of continuous temptation. MacMonnies was very much aware of the negativity generated by false rumors before the statue was executed that a man would be shown stepping on two women, and he took care not to render this.
2) Corruption and Vice are not in fact depicted as women, but mythical creatures instead. The softer and more feminine features of their upper bodies are unmistakably female, but the amorphous continuation of their figures more closely associates them to sirens, Nereids, or Medusa. Supernatural entities with select human traits are used to represent abstract ideas in art of all times and and places. They are not limited to females.
3) The motif of one figure towering above another usually has great allegorical depth, of which the statue’s detractors show complete ignorance. This imagery appears across cultures. Perhaps most famous, is the Hindu image of the dancing Shiva standing on a dwarf, which represents Ignorance. It would be a grave error to claim that this image,
the “Nataraja,” is demeaning toward people with physical disabilities, or that the culture behind it consider those with dwarfism ignorant. Such a position would constitute a crassly offensive statement toward Hindus who revere its intended deeper spiritual meaning. The attempt to be politically correct often leads to unintentional, self-defeating hypocrisy.
4) MacMonnies was a skilled artist who could personify abstract concepts in highly stylized fashion, and did not have a sexist agenda. Women did play inspiring roles in some of his works, such as the bronze work Liberty in Distress, shown below, which features a male figure slumped over in defeat or death, supported only by the strength of the female Liberty.
Triumph of Civic Virtue was conceived during the Progressive Era, when a high priority was placed on social reform and the government checking corruption in the nation’s rapid growth during the industrial age and the waves of immigration.
More detailed information about the history of the statue can be found here.
5) The defeat of Vice by Virtue is a theme that has been done with the genders reversed, and no one has raised such an outcry as they have over MacMonnies’ rendition. For example, the 16th century piece Triumph of Virtue over Vice by Giovanni, da Bologna:
Often in allegorical works, the personification of virtue, temperance, or justice is in fact female. This is not a hard rule, and we would direct the reader to learn more about the basics of allegory.
The most prominent people who have attacked the statue in recent years are ex-house member Andrew Weiner and city councilwoman Julissa Ferreras. Weiner in particular has alleged that multiple groups in his constituency petitioned him for the statue’s removal, but he has revealed no names to date, nor have any organizations come forward. Informal polls show that the vast majority of people support keeping the statue in Kew Gardens.
Anthony Weiner had attempted in 2011 to broker sale of the statue, which is public property, over Craigslist without DCAS approval. A US representative cannot transfer ownership of city property, and goes far beyond having an opinion. It also shows flagrant disregard for law and due process by an elected official.
Of course. Anyone may believe what he or she chooses. The right to hold any opinion, regardless of how ill-supported the opinion is, is protected by important freedoms. Opinions however, should at least rest on strong factual evidence and reasoning if they are to become the foundation for public policy. An educated understanding of the statue’s meaning requires a basic knowledge of art history and concepts, which its detractors stubbornly refuse to apply. It is the position of triumphofcivicvirtue.org that the weak reasoning being applied by these people is not only wrong, but dangerous in principle: if one believes that Triumph of Civic Virtue should be censored only because of a perceived source of prejudice, one which MacMonnies did not in fact have, then a precedent is set for launching similar attacks against all art and literature in New York’s public holdings from other times and places.
The married Weiner has not continued to attack the statue openly since having admitted to engaging in sexual improprieties over the phone and internet. First he denied these charges but then retracted and confessed when strong evidence came to light.
On June 16th, Weiner announced his resignation.
At least four women have come forward claiming that Weiner had sexually explicit communication with them over social media and phone. Clearly, this is not an individual who has any businesses pronouncing a judgment of what is or is not sexist. Indeed, Weiner showed very little civic virtue not only through his inappropriate behavior, but also in trying to cover it up. If he had in fact felt so strongly that the statue were sexist, he could have continued his campaign against it in his capacity as a private citizen nonwithstanding. The hypocrisy of course, would have been insurmountable, nor would he have had any political points to gain by continuing to speak out after leaving office.
triumphofcivicvirtue.org is a completely independent citizen coalition.
The site was conceived and created in the interest of seeing the statue preserved in situ. Although a number of politicians and community leaders who share these goals have expressed support for the website, it does not constitute an endorsement of any elected official. We are not telling you how to vote; we merely provide information on one particular issue.
However, because certain individuals continue to exert the power of their office or turn a deaf ear to the fight against decommission and neglect, triumphofcivicvirtue.org supports the use of political pressure against these officials until they take substantive measures both to stop their campaign to relocate the statue, and to stop thwarting the efforts of others actively trying to secure restoration in Kew Gardens. At that point, on a case by case basis, triumphofcivicvirtue.org will cease to exert or encourage this pressure. We have nothing to say about the other political positions or activities of any elected officials aside from those which relate to the issue of the statue.
triumphofcivicvirtue.org does not represent any commercial interests, or provide monetary support to other organizations. It does however, gratefully acknowledge the help received in this matter those mentioned on the links page.
Who is behind triumphofcivicvirtue.org?
Everyone who chooses to support its goals. The website was founded and maintained by Jon Torodash, a private citizen members. It is endorsed by Queens Community Board 9 and other residents throughout the borough and elsewhere in the city. Guest contributions may be posted as deemed appropriate, and will be cited accordingly.
There are certainly matters of greater urgency and scope. Several websites exist to address them individually, and they already enjoy broad press coverage. This site is the only one devoted to the Triumph of Civic Virtue, and insofar as it maintains this focus, its influence in preserving the statue in Kew Gardens grows stronger.
The issue is as important as anyone wants it to be, and we have different levels of involvement you can take to lend your help to the cause. Some residents in the area have long found a source of pride in this work of art, and feel deeply attacked by attempts to remove it; others are less concerned, but would like it to stay. We seek to be inclusive.
It has been said that “all politics are local.” Queens may not be known for having as many art-related points of interest for tourists as Manhattan, and the borough stands to lose something valuable. Furthermore, there is the principle of the matter: unsolicited political meddling has attempted to denude a modest neighborhood of one of its shared treasures in a hypocritical display of political correctness. This is condescending to many of us, who object to being treated like children in need of oversimplified judgments made for us about what is “appropriate”. Queens residents are diverse, thoughtful, and capable of appreciating fine art and the complex issues behind it. We respect local history, and the allegory which Triumph of Civic Virtue represents.