For the first time in the nearly 15 years that Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey has been working to conserve the “Civic Virtue” statue outside Borough Hall, Borough President Helen Marshall has said she will set up a meeting about repairing the structure that has fallen into disrepair, Carey said.
“I’m anxious to see what possibly can be done to conserve it,” Carey said of the statue that was completed by American artist Frederick MacMonnies in 1919. “There are a lot of people interested in having this preserved.”
A number of politicians have criticized the statue, saying it’s sexist because it depicts a nearly nude man with a sword towering over two female figures. Just before former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from office, he and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) called for the work to be moved from the corner of Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike.
“I’ve passed by that statue many times, and I don’t like its message,” Marshall said during a budget hearing earlier this month. “It would cost probably $2 million to clean, and we do need services for children and seniors.”
Still, Carey said this week that she was heartened by Marshall promising that she would set up a meeting with the district manager about preserving the statue, which has been badly damaged by the elements, as well as pigeon waste, after being outside for so many years.
Carey began working on preserving the statue around 1998 —a year when an Ozone Park corporation assessed the statue and reported it would cost around $1 million to restore it.
Carey said one of her priorities is to find a nonprofit that might be able to take on the restoration fight, or potentially use its own funds to help fund the work. She noted that many residents want to see the piece preserved in part because it is one of the borough’s few public art works.
While others have called the work sexist, an art historian from Stony Brook University has also advocated for its preservation.
“I wouldn’t argue that politicians are wrong, or people are wrong, or stupid because they see this work as sexist in some way,” professor Michele Bogart, who lives in Brooklyn, said in a previous interview with the Queens Chronicle. “I would argue they’re not paying close enough attention to the work. They’re reacting in a knee-jerk way and haven’t bothered to understand the history of it.”
Bogart said the statue could be used to teach students and the general public about the history of the city and the borough, as it was commissioned by the mayor in 1909 and ultimately dedicated in 1922.
“Use the work as a vehicle to educate people on the complexities of art, the representation of male-female relationships, about Queens and the city,” she said.