A Second Chance
By Robert Beck
And forever after, it was known throughout the land that things other people said had changed Bob’s mind. That’s not something you hear very often, about anybody.
Sometimes I walk past the American Museum of Natural History on the way to my studio. I’ve always been impressed by the power of the statue of Teddy Roosevelt out front. I took the position of making it a teaching moment, and I was disappointed when it was gone.
My wife and I decided to have a date at the museum a couple of weeks ago. I spent time on the website ahead of time, so I didn’t end up one of those people standing in the hall thrashing a paper map around trying to find the Enormasaurus.
Let me say that the AMNH remains one of the great visits on the planet. The dioramas are still jaw-droppers—better than anything you will see on a flat screen. The dinosaurs, the gemstones, the whale, and the exhibition on the indigenous people of the Northwest all amaze. Drop everything and go right now. You will be better for it.
There was a page on the museum website that dealt with the statue. It included reasoned thoughts from staff and visitors. Two of them stuck with me. One young person would put all the figures on horses. I liked that. The other statement that resonated with me was from a guy who said the museum has lions and cheetahs—so what’s this thing doing in front? Bring out the good stuff. It got me thinking.
When the call comes asking me to take charge, you can expect a new statue. I’ll put it in the park along 81st St., near the new wing they are finishing (which I think is very cool). I’ll ask Kate Brockman—the finest figurative sculptor I know—to create a monument with Roosevelt, two other people (I’m thinking a tribal leader and a physician), and a couple of animals from the wild, all standing together, welcoming everyone walking along the path to come inside and see how extraordinary the place is. Because preserving our natural world is imperative, there is much to understand, and we must do this together.
That empty spot along Central Park West needs something, however. I don’t think the cheetah works. I’d put a T-rex there. But like I said, I’m open to ideas.
To contact Robert Beck or see more of his work, visit robertbeck.net
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Trivia riddle: what movie features both T. Rex and a leopard?
Answer: the classic “Bringing Up Baby”. Movies don’t get any funnier. ( in addition to the fossil and the cat, actually two cats, you get Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. )
That idea has my vote.
They really shouldn’t have gotten rid of the original statue. Nothing useful came of its removal, just more division. Focusing on performative gestures like removing statues is lazy.
It’s a gorgeous statue. Pathetic that it is gone. Meanwhile the bug house is ugly as sin.
Totally agree…it also strikes me as a bit petty and vindictive. Times change, as do people and to try to overlay the cultural mores of any time over a prior time (i.e. judging the past through the prism of the present), is wrong.
The reality of supremacy is not a thing of the past.
Bring back the statue of Teddy Roosevelt.
Cut off the two figures on each side of him.
Just him on his horse.
Excellent idea ! “Teddy” (for whom the “Teddy Bear”was named) is ranked one of the top five American presidents, and his face is on Mount Rushmore (along with Washington’s, Jefferson’s, and Lincoln’s ).
As an earlier posting says, we cannot rewrite history, and so it is absurd to judge the past by today’s values (should we condemn Ford and/or the Wright brothers for creating climate-damaging auto and airplanes?).
And did removing his statue make any difference in today’s race relations? NO, but it did give a certain set of “progressives” credit amongst their crowd (ironically, for his time T.R. was definitely a progressive).
As convincing as all these sentiments are in 2023, the institutions themselves have the final say. The Washington Redskins was part of the history of America’s favorite sport. It has decided to move forward.
Sambos chain of 1000+ restaurants for 50/60 years are also done…
“Our family has looked into our hearts and realize that we must be sensitive when others whom we respect make a strong appeal,” the restaurant’s owners wrote on Facebook.
Removing the statue was classic progressive virtue signaling.
How many peoples’ lives were materially improved because of the removal? Zero.
My life was improved. That statue made me feel unhappy each time I passed it – and not just recently, but for all the 35 years I’ve lived in the neighborhood. I’m all for a dinosaur out front. Not a symbol of the oppression of indigenous peoples.
Of course no lives were materially improved by removing the statue. But it was more than a performative gesture. Those of you who are not members of historically racially oppressed groups who have been dIscriminated against will NOT be able to understand the difference it makes between being reminded of their status in this country EVERY time they walked by or entered the museum, and now, not having to view such a reminder. The value of eliminating that micro aggression may seem meaningless or very small to you. But micro aggressions everyday, all day, add up and become burdensome and difficult to bear. The museum folks AND Roosevelt’s heirs felt this an important thing to do, perhaps to relieve some of that burden.
I’m a White guy, am not PC in the least and have always thought the statue was insulting. You don’t have to be a member of an oppresed group.
i’ve t that for decades, not recent politial winds. The statute wasn’t microaggressive, it was in your face insulting. the two walking figures who are not actual individuals but represent their race are clearly subservient. There is not even a alternative interpretaiton that is remotely reasonable.
And it is not like removing historical figures that are now deemed problematic. it’s different because the work itself is overtly insulting. if it were just a statue of Roosvelt, or Columbus or whoever, that’d be a differnet issue.
i like the suggestions of putting dinosaurs or sabre tooth tigers as statues. after all that’s why anyone goes there .
Everyone’s ancestors, at some point, were oppressed. In fact, during the 1700s and early 1800s, there were white slaves held by black slaveholders in North Africa. Slavery was common throughout Africa and the Middle East (still is in fact). Natives throughout the Americas also enslaved each other long before Europeans showed up.
Removing the statue was destructive in every way.
Caused more division.
Statue was history. Hiding history doesn’t make it disappear.
Tell that to Ron De Santis.
No truer statement has there been.
Not a bad idea: removing the two walking figures, leaving Roosevelt. But I do not agree that removing it is an idle, pointless progressive gesture. If the statue had any disturbing meaning, then its removal, though symbolic, makes an important statement, an important gesture, not only in the realm of culture, but in the world of daily life, from out of which the visitors come, passing by a statue that was felt to be demeaning and insulting for the descendants of many oppressed people.
Thank you. This was a wonderful read.
Something in the vein of Jeff Koons “Puppy” or Anish Kapoor’s “The Bean”. A sculpture that will inspire us to look and appreciate nature, as Theodore Roosevelt had shared with us.
The less enlightened a population, the more powerful its symbols .
Can I believe my own eyes reading these comments and seeing some degree of common sense re-emerging?? Pendulums swing and people learn (or at least I’ve always hoped so) and actual discourse comes back into play.
I love the statue of Teddy Roosevelt out front.. No slight exists. Put it back where it belongs.
I vote for your design, Rpbert. I don’t think the statue that was there would benefit by being truncated (oops, no elephant :-)), and your design would be welcoming to the museum and still give TR the credit he deserves.
How about an anachronistic statue of Teddy riding a dinosaur? He really needs to be up there in front of the museum. Maybe just him, standing alone?
They never should have removed Teddy. The people who attacked him had no sense of history. It was a travesty .
DOI: “After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt used his authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land.” Say what you will – he reshaped the country for the better.
Certainly. But the statue did not reflect those accomplishments. Rather, it was the sculptor’s expression of white male domination and had nothing to do with preserving public land or cherishing the natural world.
No one said he didn’t. However, it was not TR who commissioned the sculpture symbolizing ha superiority.
The reason the two people were on foot was because they were guides and trackers. Putting them on horseback would have been ahistorical and quite bizarre for a guide of that era. It had nothing to do with “white supremacy”. Yet the feverish zeal with which the woke mob demanded the tearing down of the statue reminded me of the Salem witch trials.
give me a break, it’s obviously insulting.
how is it ahistorical? As if American Indians weren’t riding horses by Teddy Roosvelt’s time. the statue is obviously symbolic, not meant to depict actual people doing actual things in the world.
statute was not micro aggressive, it was just plainly insulting and i saw that the first time i visited the place decades ago as a kid.
Why do you and others use ‘woke’ as if it’s a negative thing? To be woke is to be aware, conscious, open with clarity and mindfulness. Otherwise, you’re asleep.
Yani, you’re all over these comments, trying really hard to defend that statue. Going out on a limb, is it safe to say you were also really offended by the disappearance of the Aunt Jemima brand imagery? Did you boycott Uncle Ben’s and Land O’Lakes when they changed their logos?
Why is it so hard to take a step back and realize that something is offensive to someone with a different background than you?
From Wikipedia: “Walking on either side of him are two men, on one side a Native American and on the other, a sub-Saharan African.”
Teddy would not need guides and trackers for two separate continents at the same time. That would have been quite bizzare. The scene is already “ahistorical”—it is meant to be symbolic.
That painting would work well in a children’s book. I don’t know, I think it’s probably counterproductive to erase history. Why candy over reality?
Removing the statue of Teddy Roosevelt was just another example of denying history. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it
Who WERE the two alongside the exalted TR?
Never the focus.
11 hours ago
Reply to Yani
From Wikipedia: “Walking on either side of him are two men, on one side a Native American and on the other, a sub-Saharan African.”
For the AMNH the image doesn’t have to be anthrocentric (himans) or even biocentric (animals, dinos, etc.). The image that comes to mind is a sphere within a sphere sculpture. This gives me the feeling of something beautiful continuously wasting away and falling apart while reforming and re-emerging. This is what nature is all about.
If I had to pick something biological, I’d go with a giant woolly mammoth sculpted from our own Manhattan schist n memory of the beasts that used to roam Manhattan before our time and the foundation rock that supports our city.
Here are some examples of spheres:
As a boy I used to pass the TR sculpture almost daily on my way to school, I had no strong feelings about it then but, now, as an adult, with adult sensibilities, I find its racial pyramid demeaning. James Fraser, the sculptor, appreciated Native American culture (he designed the Indian Head Nickel) and the sculpture is not slated for destruction but, rather, it will be respectfully re-sited.
I’m sorry, but if you don’t look at that statue and cringe at least a little bit at the half-dressed Native and the barely-dressed Black man standing subordinate to the fully-dressed white man on horseback, you are not seeing this how others see it.
Is it in front of the Teddy Roosevelt Museum? Why must we, for history’s sake, give this statue, that demeans Natives and Blacks, pride of place in front of our of our city’s greatest museums? Sure, Teddy Roosevelt was an admirable president, just as his writings about, say, “colored” soldiers in the Spanish-American War were less than admirable. Read a damned book, or look at a picture, if you wish to learn more about Teddy Roosevelt. That one statue with the shirtless non-white folks doesn’t really tell you as much about him as a book would. Removing the statue doesn’t erase history, it removes something that is objectively offensive.
Be a little bit thoughtful in how others see things.
Are we suggesting a nationwide art competition for a new sculpture for the CPW Plaza at AMNH?!! Well, yes, I think we are! Sign me up!
I wonder if left leaning people think that Jim Fraser’s Buffalo Nickel or Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar would be seen as racist or otherwise inappropriate today?
Why the Museum caved to a minority group
was incredibly wrong for all the reasons stated in this chat.
Return it to its former place and objections should be invited to an informative class
on WHO TR was/is
Removing the statue was the right decision and it is done. The statue was commissioned at a different point and time in history and it served its purpose. Symbols have power. As society changes, and we become more aware of the true facts of history, we have an obligation to change the symbols that represent us. It was simply not okay to have something that shows white male dominance and POC in subordinate roles representing one of the grandest institutions in NYC and the US.
I remember visiting the museum on a school field trip as an older elementary student and being surprised and made uncomfortable by the statue. This was back in the 1980s. Even then I knew that the statue wasn’t okay. I am all for replacing the statue with something much more appropriate. Who knows, maybe in 100 years, what we build now might be deemed inappropriate.
The whole thing was infinitely sad, IMO. Roosevelt was extremely progressive for his day. Invited Booker T Washington to formal dinner at White House and caught a lot flack for it, not even Lincoln did that for a Black man, first time. After he negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War he cautioned Americans against categorizing the Japanese as “inferior race”, categorically said they were not. And my family were Polish Jews from Warsaw, and yes, I’ll listen to anti-Semite SOB Wagner’s music, theme songs of the Third Reich, with pleasure. . Get over it. EVERYONE is of their time, it’s impossible not to be. 100 years from now someone will think you were a monster in some way that you can’t predict