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Queens Chronicle

Historic sculpture headed to Brooklyn

Commission approves ‘Civic Virtue’ relocation to Green-Wood Cemetery

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Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 10:30 am

Opponents of the process are crying foul, but the city appears to have cleared the last legal hurdle in its efforts to relocate the controversial “Civic Virtue” statue from its place at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

The city’s Design Commission held a public hearing on Nov. 13 to examine the “long-term loan” of the 1922 Frederick MacMonnies statue to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The towering statue depicts a male figure with a sword standing over two female figures depicted as mythological sirens.

It has been at Borough Hall since 1941 when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had it moved from City Hall.

The statue, which once featured a fountain, has fallen into disrepair over the last few decades. Members of the MacMonnies family are buried in Green-Wood, though the artist is not. The family has offered to pay for the statue’s transportation and restoration.

Critics, including Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), have praised the statue as a great work of art, while many, including women’s groups, have called the statue sexist and misogynistic.

Several groups and borough leaders have discussed the possibility of replacing the statue, at the northwest end of Borough Hall on Queens Boulevard, with some sort of display recognizing prominent women in Queens history.

Vallone wants the borough to retain the historic sculpture.

“This great work of art belongs to the people of Queens, and it should be kept in place and restored to its former glory here,” Vallone said. “A statue in Central Park would never be allowed to fall into disrepair and then be taken away from Manhattan.”

Vallone felt the fix was in to move the statue earlier this year, though the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services denied that claim.

But Vallone criticized the Design Commission’s decision to hold the hearing two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, and the timing of public notice of the hearing.

A city spokesman said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday that the commission posts the dates for all meetings a year in advance, and is required to post the agendas no less than 72 hours before the meeting.

Other city agencies are required to post agendas no less than 10 days and no more than 30 days before meetings.

The city spokesman also said that city council members, community boards, civic organizations and individuals who request it receive automatic email notification before the required deadline; and the notices are published electronically and in print in city publications.

“The guidelines were met,” he said.

Vallone, in a statement issued by his office, was not impressed, saying the generic email was sent out one week after the hurricane “when city Council and other emails were still not working,” he said.

“First DCAS denied this decision had been made, and then the decision is secretly ratified two weeks after one of the worst natural disasters in the city’s history,” he said. “Their next step is probably to throw a black bag over Civic Virtue’s head and take him to Brooklyn in the back of a van.”

He said the timing gave those seeking to keep the statue in place virtually no opportunity to attend or to send relevant comments to the commission for consideration.

Vallone’s statement also took issue with criticism that the sculpture is sexist, saying it depicts mythology and that sirens are not women but creatures with tails.

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