Events & News

Civic Virtue & the Politics of Display

July 19, 2011
6:30 PM
World Monuments Fund

NYPAP and the Fine Arts Federation of New York hosted a lecture by Michele H. Bogart, author and professor of American visual culture studies at Stony Brook University. Entitled “Civic Virtue & the Politics of Display, or How Anthony Weiner Shed Light on a Public Art Cause: Notes from One Preservation Archive,” Bogart drew from extensive research to offer a new perspective on the long-controversial sculpture Civic Virtue Triumphant Over Unrighteousness. Commissioned by New York City Mayor George McClellan as a Progressive Era symbol of good government, Frederick MacMonnies’ Civic Virtue proved divisive upon its 1922 completion. Although MacMonnies defended the work as allegorical, opponents argued that its imagery—civic virtue as a male figure triumphing over vice, represented by two prone female figures—was misogynist. In 1941, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert Moses moved the statue from its prominent location in Manhattan’s City Hall Park to Kew Gardens, Queens, where it now lies in disrepair. Over the subsequent years, various politicians refused to maintain the sculpture due to its polemical nature, and in February 2011, Queens congressman Anthony Weiner spoke against the deteriorating monument as “sexist” and an “eyesore.” In her lecture, Bogart asserted that Weiner’s campaign against Civic Virtue, which included calling for its removal through an advertisement on Craigslist, paradoxically helped its cause by drawing attention to its plight. She went on to examine Weiner’s objection in the ironic light of the infamous scandal that erupted several months later. Appealing for the restoration of Civic Virtue as a historical artifact and a catalyst for civil discussion of modern ideals, Bogart argued that controversy does not preclude preservation.

World Monuments Fund
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New York, NY 10119
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Above: Civic Virtue installed in City Hall Park in Manhattan in 1922; Courtesy of Times Wide World Photos