Visitors to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza will be in for a peculiar sight. (Or not.)
For the summer, city officials have covered the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in a massive white cape while it undergoes some much-needed repairs. He $9 million restoration of the Triumphal Arch and Bailey Fountain began in early May, but only this month has the historic monument been hidden from public view. Funded by the administration of former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the project is being led by the Prospect Park Alliance, a private nonprofit organization that oversees the day-to-day operations of the park, in partnership with the City of New York.
Located in the north corner of the park at the cross section of Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway, Grand Army Plaza is more than just a busy roundabout, hosting countless community gatherings, protestsand events, including the weekly farmers market throughout the year.
Since the mid-1990s, when the arch was last restored, the designated landmark has fallen into severe disrepair, plagued by invasive plants and degraded infrastructure. The project to renovate the Brooklyn site was delayed due to “project complexities” and a slowdown from the pandemic, a representative for the Prospect Park Alliance said. hyperallergic; now, the restoration is progressing.
The project is making several improvements to the oval-shaped plaza, including renovating the arch’s brick and stone exterior, repairing the monument’s interior stairs leading to the observation deck, and replacing the arch’s roof and light fixtures. exteriors.
In addition, the plaza’s existing chain link fence will be replaced with new steel barriers, and broken and uneven walkways leading to the historic Bailey Fountain and the John F. Kennedy Memorial will be repaired to improve pedestrian accessibility. The project will also address the grassy embankments that frame the plaza, as the City plans to remove invasive plants and disrepairing trees, and repopulate the landscape with fresh native flora.
Before the roundabout existed, the area was originally the site of the long island battle (or the Battle of Brooklyn) in the Revolutionary War, the first major battle after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. During the construction of Prospect Park in 1867, the park’s creators, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designed the elliptical plaza as a formal entrance to the park. The plaza became the location of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in 1892. Designed by John H. Duncan, the granite monument was erected to honor those who served and fought in the Union Army during the Civil War.
The high arch is decorated with groupings of bronze statues designed by Frederick MacMonnies depicting the goddess Columbia, a female personification of America riding a horse-drawn carriage, and Union Army soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War . In the group of statues on the right, a black soldier is depicted holding a pistol, crouching in front of the white soldiers behind him.
The kneeling pose of the black soldier has been the subject of criticism and debate, explained University of Pittsburgh professor Kirk Savage, who said hyperallergic that the image comes from 19th century white savior abolitionist emblems that “completely lacked any notion of black agency or resistance.” As a professor of art history and architecture, Savage focuses his research on Civil War monuments and is currently on the board of directors of the Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization specifically aimed at reshaping past public monuments, present and future.
Savage explained that despite the figure being “partially caught in the passive pose of a kneeling figure”, the inclusion of the bronze soldier was “a groundbreaking image” for its time, as it illustrated “a certain agency or resistance” that otherwise otherwise it would be absent. at other abolitionist-influenced Civil War memorials at the time. Savage noted the sculptor’s specific decision to place a pistol in the soldier’s hand, as well as having the soldier’s gaze look out in the same direction of the barrel next to him, unlike other monuments of the period such as Thomas’s. Ball.emancipation group” (1873) which showed black people looking down in a submissive pose.
New York City had its own troubled history during the Civil War. Despite being a state of the Union, the city inflicted its own violence on its black residents, such as the riots of 1863 when angry white residents carried out five days of “acts of terror” against the city’s black population to large scale, Savage explained.
“Putting a black figure on this monument was something that I think was amazing,” Savage said. “But there’s probably still room for a counter image to [the arch] that better represents the long history of black resistance.”
Multimedia artist Nicole Awai explained to hyperallergic how she has always seen the black soldier at the monument as her “guide”, helping to inspire her multimedia installation”Persistent resistance of liquid earth” (2018) at the BRIC art center in downtown Brooklyn. The image of the soldier also led Awai to create “Spirit of Persistence of Resistance of the Liquid Land” (2018) in response to the removal of Confederate monuments across the country, commemorating the fatal 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the murder of civil rights activist Heather Heyer.
“He is never a victim. For me, he was truly the alchemist, the person who transforms or creates through a seemingly magical process, who has the power to transform things for the better,” Awai said.
Construction on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch will be completed this fall. The oval-shaped arch and plaza will reopen to pedestrians in spring 2024.