Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sell a Public Sculpture on CraigsList?

I had a post for this week already in the queue, so to speak, but this controversy is too hot to let slip by! Apparently New York Congressman Wiener and Councilwoman Ferreras think it's okay to sell works of public art, owned by public entities, on CraigsList. Consider this: Frederick MacMonnies's Civic Virtue. Read one of the many reports online here and the actual CraigsList posting here: For Sale: 22-ton (sexist) marble “Triumph of Civic Virtue” statue by renowned sculptor Frederick MacMonnies. Own a (tasteless) piece of New York City history! Triumph of Civic Virtue created by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies – the artist behind iconic figures such as the Quadriga in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza – is now up for sale for a limited time. This controversial and offensive statue crudely depicts a young man with a sword triumphantly standing over the defeated bodies of two women. In 1941, then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had the good sense to banish the figure from its initial location in City Hall Park. Unfortunately, it ended up in Kew Gardens, where it remains to this day. Now, community leaders want to see it go. All proceeds from the sale of this sexist eyesore will benefit the city of New York. Shipping is not included. -Posted By Rep. Anthony Weiner

Times have changed...or, have they? Read an interesting letter to the Editor, that appeared in the New York Times 24 years ago, about this sculpture and its history. MacMonnies' sculpture is considered a landmark work because of its place in public history, social history, and art history. As someone who researches and promotes public art -- its past, present, and future -- I see this sculpture's relevance today wrapped into a tight matrix with its past. Someone's desire to move the work, or, in this case --the sale of that work to anyone -- does not necessitate action. The current debate focuses not on moving the sculpture to another location nor on its condition but on its sexist portrayal of women.

As we enter Women's History Month, I ask readers to consider what this proposed action really invites. Does it sanction taste? Does it censor? Does it foreground feminism as the concern in an effort to raise funds for a budget that has been depleted for months? Could the primary concern in this CraigsList Conundrum be activism? Consider the source...A quick wiki search reveals that Weiner was Jon Stewart's roommate in college, represents a multi-ethnic and diverse district in Brooklyn and Queens, and places his focus on concerns such as quality of life issues for his constituents. Read through the wiki info on him and you'll notice a dearth of activity related to public art and arts funding. And, yet, his CraigsList posting discloses his authority to judge an historic work of art by calling it "tasteless", "controversial", and "offensive." This action and the use of language, to me, at least, suggests that the posting serves as a knee-jerk reaction and activist motion with another agenda and, yet, I am not sure what the agenda is. The base thought of selling a work of public art on CraigsList brims with complication, confusion, and impropriety -- at least in my opinion. Or, should I use Weiner's own words about the sculpture against him? Was his act tasteless, controversial, and offensive? I'd be interested to read what you think.

BTW, photo credit:


Boris Zakic said...

whew, excellent post!

HDfoto said...

How can you sell a giant thing on Craig list? what would be the shipping? and will it even fit on a UPS truck? (hands shaking in the air) SCANDAL! how many stamps!? how many ups workers? its just outrageous! do they make a flat rate box for that size sculpture?

Mexifem said...

I think this is kind of brilliant and hysterical. This "scandal" has broached a few of the most relevant debates from the past 30-40 years: feminist critique of traditional depictions of women in art, art and the public audience, as well as governmental sponsorship and/or interference. Sandwiched between the beginning of Women's History Month and the proposed cut to NEA funding, it seems to be a John-Stewart-meets-the-Guerilla-Girls stunt.

Jacob Pankey said...

Great Post! I was in the floor laughing. Is this really serious? I cannot see a Congressman using such language to describe a structure in a public setting.

Earl Grey said...

In response to Jacob, yes, Congressmen have used such language before (and likely will again). Case in point, Senator Jesse Helms in response to the works of Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. His concern focused on funding of the arts and how money should be spent. He introduced a floor amendment that banned NEA grants from being used to “promote, disseminate or produce obscene or indecent materials, including but not limited to depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts; or material which denigrates the objects or beliefs of the adherents of a particular religion or non-religion.” A fascinating chronology is here:

Also, one need not look much further than Rep. John Boehner who spends his free time as a curator, facetiously according to NY Magazine, as he sees it fit to decide what should stay or go in a critically acclaimed (and controversial) show at the National Portrait Gallery. See article here:
and exhibition here:

Earl Grey said...

To HDfoto -- I love your very practical questions!
To Mexifem -- I really don't think it's a stunt. But, you're exactly right in pointing out upcoming proposed cuts to NEA funding.

Another few other points to ponder...does anyone else see the irony in the discussion and controversy surrounding this work and its title, Civic Virtue? Virtue means moral responsibility, excellence. Add to this, the civic context and we have a work that should, in theory, bear witness to righteousness and this controversy evidences a lack of righteous behavior, or, at least judgement.

As Mexifem points out the feminist critique of women in art, I would like to add in consideration of the placement and use of the female in terms of allegory, as evidenced here in MacMonnies's work. A dear friend, who teaches in MA, brought this to my attention recently via email and I have to say, it's definitely something to consider!

Mexifem said...

Earl Grey, I was going to mention something about the allegorical representation as well. This is something we've talked about this semester in my Mexican class, where women have been repeated used to represent the oppression of native culture in Mexico.

I read another article about this current scandal that quotes one defender of the sculpture as saying that the women depicted (who have been slain in the name of "civic virtue") aren't real women so, of course, it isn't offensive.

There is a press release about Weiner's desire to remove the sculpture on his website, so I guess the sentiment behind the act is real, but I still have a hard time believing that the Craigslist ad isn't completely tongue-in-cheek, especially after NY Rep. Chris Lee's own recent Craigslist forays. And I like to think that anyone with the last name Weiner would have to have a good sense of humor.

Earl Grey said...

From Prof. Craig Reynolds, an update that a Brooklyn cemetery would love to own this MacMonnies gem. Thanks for the update, Craig.

For full story, copy link here: