Metro

Thomas Jefferson statue headed to NY Historical Society

The statue of Thomas Jefferson that’s being booted from City Hall is destined for a private museum — despite critics’ insistence that the public piece of art should be available to the masses.

The Public Design Commission, comprised of members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will discuss a long-term loan of the monument to the New York Historical Society on Nov. 15.

The commission already voted to banish the Founding Father from his perch in the City Council chambers because some members objected to memorializing a slaveholder.

But commission president Signe Nielsen said last month she wanted to relocate it to “an appropriate location where it remains in the public realm.”

At the time, Nielsen and other commission members rejected the Historical Society as an option because the Upper West Side institution is privately run and charges a $22 admission fee for adults. Instead, they proposed moving the statue to either a different part of City Hall that houses tributes to former slaveholders or to the New York Public Library.

According the New York Historical Society, the statute of the founding father will go on the first floor before being placed in a corner of a reading room.
According to the New York Historical Society, the statute of the founding father will go on the first floor before being placed in a corner of a reading room.

However, Design Commission documents indicate commissioners overcame their initial reluctance by citing the Historical Society’s “pay-as-you-wish” admission policy on Friday evenings.

The documents say the 1833 painted plaster statue will go to the museum’s first floor lobby for “approximately six months” before ultimately being placed in a corner of a reading room. 

“We’re confident the statue will land in an accessible location that puts Jefferson’s legacy in its full historical context,” said mayoral spokesman Mitch Schwartz when asked about the change in plans.

The statue will ultimately find its new home in the reading room of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library in the Historical Society.
The statue will ultimately find its new home in the reading room of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library in the Historical Society.

Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-Queens), who helped lead the charge to oust Jefferson from the council chambers, said the plan was always to send the statue to the Historical Society.

“They were the folks who had agreed to accept it,” Miller said, adding that the commission was opening a “Pandora’s box” by suggesting alternate locations.

“I just really felt that it was kind of an oxymoron in the people’s house to have someone who really did not respect the values of those that were in there now,” said Miller, who co-chairs the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

Some members of the City Council raised objection to the statue's new home and suggested that it be placed in another section of City Hall instead.
Some members of the City Council raised objection to the statue’s new home and suggested that it be placed in another section of City Hall instead.

But Todd Fine, a local preservation activist, called the change of plans shady.

“The Design Commission already acknowledged that it was wrong to give this invaluable public artwork to a private entity,” he said. “This inexplicable reversal has questionable legality and smacks of political pressure.”


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