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Defending an artist

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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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Kenneth Kowald from No Holds Barred says:
I note that Councilman Vallone wants to keep the statue in Kew Gardens. Of course, that would be the best idea, but it should be conditioned on having it rehabilitated and made a working fountain again, it seems to me. I have no problem to giving it to Green-Wood Cemetery, if it cannot remain in Queens. MacMonnies was a Brooklyn lad and a New Yorker to his core. I congratulate the Councilman for upholding the importance of a work of art. That's the kind of courage we need in our public servants and it is in too short supply these days.

Kenneth Kowald
July 30, 2012, 4:27 pm
SP from forest hills says:
If the Civic Virtue statue depicted different races instead of different genders, would you still regard it as a worthy work of art? While MacMonnies may have had some degree of techinical proficiency as a sculptor, ultimately a work of art is judged by its message. The message of this so-called work of art is one that insults 51 % of the population. Even if it bore a different moniker, seeing women wrapped around the ankles of a man is a degrading image. I salute the pigeons.
Sept. 14, 2012, 8:10 pm
Kenneth Kowald from No Holds Barred says:
SP: I had not looked back on my past column about Civic Virtue until the news this week that it will be moved, sans fountain, to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Let us hope the fountain is restored.
As for your comment about "judging" art, I will go along with what a professor of mine at CCNY said about great art: It should entertain and instruct.
That does not, in my opinion, mean that other art should be "controlled" in any way. If we don't want to see a particular film, we don't go. Any possible censorship in a democracy is very dangerous. In the long run, it seems to me, "judging" art is one of the most subjective things human beings do.
Kenneth Kowald
Dec. 1, 2012, 5:01 pm

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