LAXART Seeks Charlottesville's Toppled Statues

Henry Shrady, Gen. Robert E. Lee, 1924. Charlottesville, Virginia, before 2020 removal

Last summer, when Charlottesville, Va., removed its statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, there was talk of putting them in a museum. Some questioned whether any museum would want the statues or the challenges of contextualizing them. It turns out that at least 13 institutions have expressed interest in the statues, including one in L.A. LAXART, the alternative space in West Hollywood, is proposing an exhibition of the decommissioned statues alongside contemporary artists' responses. 

LAXART has lots of competition. Other institutions interested in the statues are the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Charlottesville; the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, Mich.; and the Ogletree Estates, a Cornelia, Georgia plantation house that does weddings and corporate events. The town of Goshen, Virginia, (pop 361) says it wants to display the statues as a tourist attraction. Eighteen private individuals have also asked about the statues. 

It is sometimes said that Jim Crow-era Confederate statuary, created long after the Civil War, has zero artistic merit. For what it's worth, the two Charlottesville statues were created by New York sculptors of some reputation at the time. Gen. Lee is by Henry Shrady (1871-1922), better known for his memorial to Lee's nemesis, Ulysses S. Grant, on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Stonewall Jackson is by Charles Keck (1875-1951), an assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens and creator of architectural sculpture for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the campus gates of Columbia University. Keck did Tuskegee University's memorial to Booker T. Washington, Lifting the Veil of Ignorance (1927). In short, the artists weren't nobodies, nor are they likely to have been supporters of the "lost cause." They took commissions where they could get them.

The Charlottesville City Council says it is still leaving all options on the table, including demolishing the statues.

Charles Keck, Lifting the Veil of Ignorance (Booker T. Washington Memorial), 1927. Tuskegee University