Civic Virtue Task Force
j 107-41 107th Street • Ozone Park, New York 11417-2316
*** NEWS RELEASE ***
Triumph of Civic Virtue Task Force announces initiative to return the newly-cleaned Civic
Virtue statue to its Queens Boulevard home; demands immediate removal of false information
from sign installed in front of Civic Virtue by Green-Wood cemetery
Queens, New York – June 6, 2014
For immediate release
Contact: Richard Iritano / Civic Virtue Task Force
Queens community activists and art appreciators have formed the "Civic Virtue Task
Force" to plan and advocate for the return of the newly-cleaned and conserved Triumph of Civic
Virtue statue from Green-Wood Cemetery, where it was moved temporarily in 2012, back to its
home on Queens Boulevard where it had been on display for 71 years. The Task Force has met
with representatives of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and has inspected the colossal
statue at the cemetery where it is on temporary loan.
"Civic Virtue really sparkles and shines now. It must be seen to be believed. The cleaning
has done wonders for it," remarked Task Force member and activist Richard Iritano upon seeing
Civic Virtue at Green-Wood cemetery. "Now that this public art has been restored at taxpayer
expense, it needs to be put back on display on Queens Boulevard so the public can enjoy what
our tax dollars have accomplished – not banished to a graveyard among the dead."
At present, the Civic Virtue Task Force counts among its members Mary Ann Carey
(District Manager, Queens Community Board 9), Ralph Gonzalez (Chairperson, Queens
Community Board 9), Richard Iritano (activist), Robert LoScalzo (documentary media producer
who sued the City in 2013 to obtain Civic Virtue records) and Jon Torodash (activist and founder
of www.triumphofcivicvirtue.org). The Task Force has the support of City Council member
Triumph of Civic Virtue is a 22-ton colossal monument statue originally dedicated in
1922, commissioned by a New York City Mayor using funds bequeathed to the City by Angelina
Crane. The statue was designed by Frederick William MacMonnies, a well known American
sculptor of the Beaux-Arts school, and carved by the Piccirilli brothers, who also created the
statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial. The statue depicts Heracles – as the
personification of civic virtue – towering above two Sirens symbolizing vice and corruption. In
1941, Civic Virtue was moved to public property adjacent to Queens Borough Hall overlooking
Queens Boulevard, where it remained an asset to Queens on display for the next 71 years.
In 2012, despite the protests of local officials and residents, the City administration
rapidly executed a plan to move Civic Virtue from Queens Boulevard to Green-Wood cemetery
in Brooklyn. In doing so, the few proponents of the move parroted two utterly false pretexts:
first, that Civic Virtue depicts a man stomping on two women; and second, that Civic Virtue had
to be relocated to Green-Wood in order to clean and conserve it.
In fact, Civic Virtue does not depict any women at all. (Indeed, the statue was
commissioned by a woman, who would never have consented to any derogatory depiction of
women.) Rather, the statue shows Heracles as the personification of Civic Virtue, actively
triumphing over two tempting Sirens – which are non-human, allegorical figures that even have
tails protruding from their backs – symbolizing vice and corruption. "I don't understand why
people give this sculpture a meaning it doesn't have," said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager,
Queens Community Board 9. "They aren't two women, they're just two Sirens. They have tails. I
don't know any women who have tails."
The second pretext – that Civic Virtue had to be relocated to Green-Wood in order to
clean and conserve it – is equally false. As a FOIL request and lawsuit filed in 2013 by Robert
LoScalzo revealed, it was not Green-Wood that paid to clean and conserve Civic Virtue, but
rather, New York City taxpayers. Not only did taxpayers pony up $49,464.00 for "all labor,
materials and equipment necessary for the conservation of the Civic Virtue sculpture" (per the
City's Request for Proposals pertaining to that work and the response of Kreilick Conservation,
LLC, which was awarded the job), but the taxpayers then parted with an additional $49,801.00
for the design and "fabrication of a custom armature for Civic Virtue" for the purpose of
transporting the statue from Queens Boulevard to Green-Wood (per the City's Request for
Proposals pertaining to that work and the response of Surroundart, LLC, which was awarded the
job). All told, the City spent taxpayer dollars totaling $99,265.00 on Civic Virtue during 2012.
Had Civic Virtue been cleaned and conserved on Queens Boulevard instead of being moved to
Green-Wood, the taxpayers would have either saved $49,801.00 of the total cost, or that sum
could have been dedicated to additional future conservation of the statue. In any event, it was
simply unnecessary to move Civic Virtue to Green-Wood, contrary to what proponents of the
move said during 2012.
Given that Civic Virtue was moved to Green-Wood over the objections of local officials
and residents, and that City taxpayers footed bills totaling $99,265.00 to not only conserve Civic
Virtue but to aid and abet its move to Green-Wood, the Task Force was amazed to find during a
recent visit to Green-Wood that the cemetery has installed a sign in front of Civic Virtue that
denies both of those facts, and conveys false and misleading information about the
circumstances of Civic Virtue's temporary loan to Green-Wood.
Greenwood's plainly inaccurate sign states (1.) that the City of New York "could not
afford to conserve" Civic Virtue and was "without the funds to do so"; and (2.) that the City
could not afford the conservation expense because Civic Virtue "lacked the support of local
officials". Those statements only promulgate the self-serving, false narrative that Green-Wood
has concocted around Civic Virtue, and they could not be further from the truth.
"Green-Wood may have hauled Civic Virtue into the cemetery, but that doesn't entitle
Green-Wood to re-write history, and to mis-inform the statue's visitors about the taxpayer
funding of the statue's cleaning and conservation, or the fact that elected officials and the public
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actually pleaded to keep Civic Virtue on Queens Boulevard," said Task Force member Robert
Accordingly, on June 5, 2014, the Task Force sent letters to Green-Wood President
Richard Moylan and to Public Design Commission President Signe Nielsen, demanding that
Green-Wood immediately remove its false and misleading sign, and that any prospective
replacement sign be subject to a public hearing and approval by the Public Design Commission.
Meanwhile, the Task Force is not only advocating the return of Civic Virtue to Queens
Boulevard, but also wants the statue's fountain base there to be repaired and the fountain to be
turned on every day as an accessory to the restored statue. "The plumbing infrastructure is all
there and in decent condition," says Queens Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann
Carey. "It would require some maintenance, and then the water can be turned back on."
A newly-restored Civic Virtue statue returned to a functioning fountain base on Queens
Boulevard would be a sight to behold – and far superior to the plan already shown by the City
for the Queens Boulevard site, which leaves the fountain inoperative as a mere "planted ruin."
At a meeting held at Queens Borough Hall on April 8, 2014, the Civic Virtue Task Force
met with Barry Grodenchik of the Queen Borough President's Office and Nayelli Valencia, the
Office's Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism. The Task Force advocated for the return of
Civic Virtue to the Queens Boulevard site, and against the City's preposterous plan to leave the
site as a planted ruin. The discussion also touched on the fact that Queens Borough President
Melinda Katz is promoting the restoration of the 1964 World's Fair New York State Pavillion,
with an estimated cost of $40 million – but Civic Virtue, which is already restored, can be
returned to display on Queens Boulevard for just a small fraction of that cost – perhaps
$100,000.00. In that sense, Civic Virtue is low-hanging fruit, and its return to Queens arguably
should be prioritized. Its presence again on Queens Boulevard, this time accessorized by a
functioning fountain base, would provide a spectacular new image for the Borough of Queens
and would enhance public appreciation of sculptural art.
In the eight weeks since the meeting at Borough Hall, neither Mr. Grodenchik nor Ms.
Valencia has returned multiple telephone voicemails seeking to follow up and ascertain whether
or not Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will support the efforts of the Task Force. As we
see it, Ms. Katz has before her a golden opportunity to help correct the wrong that was done
when Civic Virtue was evicted from Queens, against the will of the residents of Kew Gardens
and beyond – and we hope that Ms. Katz will recognize the importance of taking action on this
worthy cause. In any case, the Task Force will work to garner the support of as many officials
and residents as possible.
Triumph of Civic Virtue is expected to be a topic during the upcoming meeting of
Queens Community Board 9 on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 7:45PM, to be held at Majestic
Marquise, 88-03 101 Avenue, Ozone Park, New York 11416.
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