Much maligned and little-loved, ‘Civic Virtue,’ a giant sculpture created in 1922, may be moved soon from its present home in Queens to a quieter spot in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Art critics say the enormous sculpture, which was designed in Paris by Frederick MacMonnies, is simply ugly; while others say its symbolism is sexist, since it portrays ‘Virtue’ as a virile, nude, 11-foot-tall male, standing over and crushing two female figures who symbolize corruption and sin.
The sculpture was manufactured in the Bronx, and is made of Georgia marble. Its first home was in City Hall Park in Manhattan during the tenure of Mayor John F. Hylan, who said at the time about ‘Civic Virtue,’ “I don’t like the looks of this fellow.”
It seems no one ever came to like the sculpture very much, but from time to time political leaders in other boroughs offered to take the hulk to their own municipalities. Such prospective homes as the Coney Island Boardwalk and Randalls Island were mentioned where, in a 1940 New York Times article it was stated that the sculpture would be “far from the jibes and jests of downtown city folk.”
In 1941 the sculpture was finally moved to Queens, prompting then Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia to quip, “Oh, it’s gone at last. Now I won’t have to look at that virtuous back any more.” (Before the statue was moved LaGuardia complained that he was ‘mooned’ every day on his way to work.)
For over 70 years ‘Civic Virtue’ has been standing behind a chain-link fence accumulating pigeon droppings in Kew Gardens on Queens Boulevard, but now there is talk of moving the marble monster again. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which oversees the welfare of the city’s artwork, believes the time has come to send ‘Civic Virtue’ packing. One option for a new home is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the artist MacMoonie has some relatives buried.
For many people who believe the statue is degrading to women and bad art to boot, Civic Virtue’s symbolic burial in the Brooklyn cemetery would be a welcome eventuality.