By Joe Anuta
Taxpayers shelled out $100,000 to clean the exiled Triumph of Civic Virtue statue and help move it from its perch outside Borough Hall to a private cemetery in Brooklyn late last year, city contracts show.
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services banished the neglected statue to Green-Wood Cemetery in Kings County in December, justifying the move by saying private dollars would be used for upkeep.
“The relocation of Civic Virtue by Frederick MacMonnies will ensure the long-term preservation of the sculpture, which has been deteriorating and is in need of treatment,” the department said in a statement. “Through this public-private partnership, Civic Virtue will remain fully accessible to the public and the sculpture will be restored for the first time in decades.”
But before the relocation, the city inked a $50,000 contract with Pennslyvania-based Kreilick Conservation to provide conservation and preservation treatment to the controversial sculpture, which included cleaning the entire piece and patching cracks with faux stone material.
The department paid another roughly $50,000 to Washington, D.C.-based Surroundart to build a custom steel cage that lifted the 17-ton artwork off its base in December, according to documents provided to TimesLedger Newspapers.
“That directly contradicts their public statements,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), a vocal opponent of the statue’s relocation. “The city’s rationale, which was wrong from the beginning, was they were going to somehow save money by doing this. But not only did it cost taxpayers money to move it, now we are finding out it is costing the taxpayers money to repair it.”
The contracts were given to TimesLedger by Queens activist and filmmaker Robert LoScalzo, who is currently suing to try and obtain communications between the city and the cemetery.
“This asset — that is no longer an asset to Queens — has been essentially privatized in Brooklyn with little to no explanation to the public and against the wishes and protests of everyone,” he said.
An indefinite loan agreement between the city and Green-Wood estimated the cemetery would pay $165,000 for transportation and $27,500 to put a protective coat on the statue. The cemetery will also build a new base for Civic Virtue, since its Borough Hall perch, including the fountain and underground plumbing, was also in need of repair, the city said. Green-Wood could not provide TimesLedger with the actual cost nor how much it would spend on long-term preservation.
The artwork has been panned as sexist since its initial installation outside City Hall in 1922. It depicts the Greek mythological hero Heracles, a scantily clad, sword-wielding man, who vanquished Sirens, depicted as two woman-like creatures squashed under his feet.
The statue was banished to Queens Borough Hall in 1941 by then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and in 2011 came under fire yet again from a group of elected officials, including then-U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who just months later resigned amid a sexting scandal.
LoScalzo has a hunch the taxpayers’ money could have been better spent refurbishing the statue at its former Borough Hall home, and hopes a judge will force the city’s hand to release communications between the department and Green-Wood Cemetery to find out more.
“It’s not lost on me the symbolic significance that a statue representing the triumph of civic virtue over vice and corruption is not welcome in our borough,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.