Last summer, amid debates over what to do with problematic monuments, the American Museum of Natural History asked city officials to remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt who has been sitting outside the institution since 1940 and which more recently came under fire. The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously to meet the request at a public meeting held earlier this week, and they will now move the statue. Neither the date of his departure nor where he will be staying in the near future has yet been identified, but a museum spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that they “expect them to be removed in the next months”.
“The statue is intended to be moved to a cultural institution, or on its grounds, dedicated to the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt,” added the spokesperson for the American Museum of Natural History. “Discussions regarding storage and final destination are ongoing.”
The statue, which depicts the 26th US President on horseback with a Native American and an African by his side, both shirtless and posted below him, has been the subject of close scrutiny for many years now. In 2017, it was one of four memorials reconsidered by a municipal commission, which ultimately made a shared decision on its fate. About half of the panel recommended that the statue be removed, while the majority of the remaining panelists recommended that more research be done. A few suggested a third option, namely that the statue should remain in place but with the addition of additional signage acknowledging the offensive nature of the work.
“Height is power in public art, and Roosevelt’s stature on his noble steed visibly expresses dominance and superiority over Native American and African figures,” the panel wrote in a report, which was released in January. 2018. The report added: “Regardless of the intention at the time of its commission, the sculpture reads like a representation of the hierarchy to many viewers in New York City today. The following year, the Museum of Natural History hosted an exhibit called Addressing the Statue, which aimed to contextualize the statue and acknowledge the controversy.
“Many see the hierarchical makeup of the statue as inherently racist, as the visual construction seems to portray the superiority of the white race. Today, the location of the statue welcoming visitors to the museum appears to imply an endorsement of its content – or perceived content – undermining the museum’s mission, ”said Dan Slippen, vice president of government relations for the museum, at this week’s meeting. “The understanding of statues and monuments as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism became even more evident in the wake of the race for racial justice that emerged after the murder of George Floyd,” Slippen adds, noting that ” it became clear that removing the statue would be a symbol of progress towards an inclusive and equitable community.
Rolando Kraeher of Studio Kraeher Architects was commissioned to redesign the space after the statues were removed. At the meeting, Kraeher said the new design will be “as simple and minimal as possible” and allow visitors to “see the Roosevelt Memorial as a place open to all,” which they can “think about and respond to as they wish.” way. ”Kraeher adds that“ the removal of the statue creates an opportunity for a new concept of inclusiveness, openness and hospitality. ”