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Defending an artist

By Kenneth Kowald

As The New York Times noted a few days ago, the knives are out again to cut up Fat Boy.

It reminded me that early on as a columnist, I wrote a column about that statue outside Borough Hall in Kew Gardens and the famous sculptor, Frederick William MacMonnies. I believe it appeared Oct. 30, 2003.

MacMonnies, born in Brooklyn in 1863, died in New York City in 1937. He was a fine and an admired artist.

The Nathan Hall statue in City Hall park is his. He did one of Shakespeare for Washington, D.C., and those are his reliefs on the bronze doors of the Library of Congress. He did the Quadriga and the Army Group on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza, the entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Also in that park is his Horse Tamers statue. He worked with Stanford White on many projects.

President Theodore Roosevelt spoke on Memorial Day in 1905, when the statue of Civil War Gen. Henry Warner Slocum was unveiled in Prospect Park.

“Civic Virtue,” known to many as “the Fat Boy,” was done on commission and it stood in City Hall park for a number of years. Many people did not like the idea of a man (Civic Virtue) trampling two women (the evil ones). The newly built Queens Borough Hall complex got it and it has been deteriorating ever since. That is certainly a civic disgrace.

To my knowledge, no one who reads this has ever seen it working as a fountain, as intended.

The point of all this is MacMonnies was a great artist, and to have one of his works belittled and degraded as “Civic Virtue” has been a terrible commentary on the political correctness of our time. I hope some of those who want it obliterated will stay away from places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Someone, somewhere, may want to restore this colossal piece and make it a fountain again. If it must leave Queens, in its current horrid state, perhaps there are those who are capable of seeing a work of art for what it is and not what they think it should be.

Suppose the name of the statue was changed from “Civic Virtue” to “Hercules”? Would the same politically correct comments prevail? There is a city in the Bay Area of California named Hercules. From what I have been able to find out, it seems like a pretty good place.

Maybe the people of that city would accept a Hercules from New York City?

Worth trying, it seems to me.

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