BY CHRISTOPHER BARCA
The city may have won the battle regarding the relocation of the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue to a Brooklyn cemetery, but those opposed to the plan say the fight is not over.
“They’re taking one of the last pieces of fine art in Queens from us,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone. “They might as well put a bag over the statue’s head and put him in the back of a truck.”
The fence-enclosed statue, standing adjacent to Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, has been the topic of bitter dialogue directed toward the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) from Community Board 9 and its constituents since July. At a November 13 public hearing, however, the NYC Design Commission ruled that the statue will be moved in the coming weeks to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the family of Frederick MacMonnies, the statue’s sculptor, is buried.
To make matters worse, Vallone claims that he and other officials, who hosted a rally alongside Community Board 9 at the statue on Saturday, December 8, were kept in the dark about the meeting in order to negate their opposition to the controversial plan.
“It was clearly designed to be secretive,” Vallone said. “An email was sent out, but the message was sent six days after Sandy, when nearly everyone’s email was inaccessible.”
The statue features Hercules standing triumphantly, representing virtue, while two sirens, representing vice and corruption, are trampled underfoot. City politicians like former Congressmember Anthony Weiner have deemed the statue sexist in recent years, but CB9 district manager Mary Ann Carey scoffs at the claim.
“I don’t understand why people give this sculpture a meaning it doesn’t have,” she said. “They aren’t two women, they’re just two sirens. They have tails. I don’t know any women who have tails.”
Whether or not the statue is indeed sexist, the city sees the uprooting of Civic Virtue as a necessary measure.
“The relocation of Civic Virtue by Frederick MacMonnies to Green-Wood is part of a public-private initiative to ensure the long-term preservation of the sculpture, which will be conserved this spring,” said a spokesperson for the city. “Civic Virtue will remain fully accessible to the public, and we are working on establishing a vibrant, welcoming public space in Queens while the statue is on loan to Green-Wood.”
The statue’s preservation will be paid for by the Brooklyn cemetery, officials said, and no other option were proposed for the restoration.
When the statue is actually moved, the base will remain at its current location, as there is a preliminary plan in place to turn the area into a public sitting plaza. According to a statement from Borough President Helen Marshall, seeing the statue go is bittersweet, but Queens residents should still benefit from the Civic Virtue site, even if the statue resides elsewhere.
“I’m glad that the statue will be restored and we’ll work to see that the base of the statue and the area around it will be transformed into a public sitting area with benches and landscaping,” Marshall said. “I would like the area to pay tribute to outstanding women who have made significant contributions to our borough and city.”