The empty base of the Lee-Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell. after former Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered its removal, along with three other city-owned statues, in 2017. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

Baltimore’s Confederate statues, removed from public view in the middle of the night in 2017, are heading to California where they will be put on display in a museum exhibit in 2022.

Bloomberg News reported this week that four city-owned statues that former Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered to be taken down will be part of a museum exhibit in Los Angeles.

An arts-oriented non-profit called LAXART is behind the plan to bring the four works from Baltimore and other Confederate statues and monuments to the West Coast for an exhibit tentatively entitled MONUMENTS.

LAXART “has been looking to scoop up toppled Confederate monuments for an exhibit planned for 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles,” states the Bloomberg article, part of its popular CityLab series. “The group has already secured the loan of four Confederate statues removed by Baltimore.”

LAXART director Hamza Walker is co-curating the exhibit along with noted artist Kara Walker (no relation), according to Bloomberg and William Poundstone, an art critic who has written about the Baltimore statues going to Los Angeles for an arts blog, lacmaonfire.blogspot.com.

Poundstone cited a June 3, 2021 letter from Hamza Walker to John Tecklenburg, the mayor of Charleston, S.C., asking to borrow that city’s statue of John C. Calhoun, taken down in 2020.

“To date, we have confirmed that Baltimore will lend us the four monuments they removed from around the city in 2017,” Walker tells Tecklenburg. LAXART is also seeking statues from Austin, Texas; Richmond, Va.; and Durham, N.C., he said.

Another statue headed to Los Angeles is one of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson from Charlottesville, Va. Charlottesville’s City Council voted this week to approve a request to send the Jackson statue to California, according to a report on WVIR-TV, the NBC affiliate.

The Baltimore area statues that were taken down in August of 2017 were: the statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Wyman Park Dell; the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Bolton Hill; the Confederate Women’s Monument near University Parkway and Charles Street; and the statue of former Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney in Mount Vernon. The Taney statue drew opposition because he issued the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, denying freed slaves citizenship in 1857.

Baltimore’s statues came down as part of a relatively early wave of removals of Confederate statues and other monuments from public property in U. S. cities. In 2020 alone, Bloomberg notes, at least 90 monuments were taken down around the country. Some are being melted down so the metal can be used to create new works of art, while others are being relocated to private settings for continued display.

‘Confront and challenge’

Hamza Walker said in his letter to the Mayor of Charleston that the idea behind the LAXART exhibit is to display historic statues alongside new works of art that can help put the Confederate monuments in a broader context.

“We have selected a group of recently decommissioned Civil War monuments from throughout the United States that we hope to put on display with the help of local and national municipalities and art historical institutions,” he said.

“Additionally, artists such as Ja’Tovia Gary, Torkwase Dyson, Abigail Deville, Natalie Ball, Devone Tines and Leonardo Drew will create new artworks inspired by the historical monuments in order to confront and challenge long held beliefs about the real people behind these inanimate objects and the ways in which we can build a roadmap forward.”

By exhibiting a range of monuments from around the country, Walker said in his letter, “we are hoping to question the geographically specific context for these statues as well as the role they play in discussions about race, gender, censorship and American history. How does collective memory differ from history and how should we decide who and what is worth celebrating, especially as public values change over time? What could “Reconstruction 2.0’ look like, and how would it avoid the failures of the first?

Supplementing the gallery display will be “a robust series of public programming featuring contributions from art historians, politicians, journalists, scholars, poets, historians and artists,” he said. “These talks and panels will also be translated into a scholarly publication that will accompany the exhibition and provide broader context.”

Cost and compensation

After the statues came down in Baltimore in 2017, two city agencies were asked to take the lead on deciding what to do with them, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP). The statues have been stored on city-owned property for safe-keeping.

C. Ryan Patterson, the BOPA representative named to be that agency’s point person for Confederate statue decisions, has since left the agency to work for the Maryland State Arts Council. Barbara Hauck, a BOPA spokesperson, did not respond to requests for information.

Eric Holcomb, the director of CHAP, indicated in an email message that he might be able to provide information. “I’ll get back to you.”

It’s unclear how Baltimore might be compensated for the four statues or whether it will have to pay to send them to Los Angeles.

LAXART offered the city of Charlottesville $100,000 to move two statues for the MONUMENTS exhibit, but the city only agreed this week to lend one, so the final figure might change.

In his letter regarding the Calhoun statue, Walker told Tecklenburg that Charleston would not have to pay to move it.

“We have contracted with Methods & Materials, a professional art handling company based out of Chicago, for shipment logistics,” he said.

“They specialize in rigging, transport, installation and de-installation of large sculptural works. They have worked with museums, art collectors, and municipalities throughout the country. All associated costs would be paid for, in full, by LAXART with funds from private donors as well as grants we have received from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and the Warhol Foundation.

Walker said he knows Los Angeles may not be the first place one might think of to see an exhibit with Confederate monuments, but there is a method to his madness.

“Though Los Angeles may seem an odd location for an exhibition about a largely Southern phenomenon,” he said, “Los Angeles has its own interesting history with the Confederacy and MOCA’s galleries are not far from where D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, another sort of Confederate monument, was filmed.”

One lingering question, noted CityLab writer Kriston Capps, is what will be done with Baltimore’s four statues after the LAXART exhibit comes to an end?

“What happens next with these massive canceled statues, which the city stashed in a transportation yard since they were removed in 2017?” he wrote. “Would Baltimore want them back?”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a statue of Robert E. Lee was being transported from Charlottesville to Los Angeles. The statue is actually of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

3 replies on “Baltimore’s Confederate statues, removed from public view in 2017, are headed to Los Angeles”

  1. Ed Gunts, thanks for sending your article to me. Fascinating! Also, could you send me your contact info and I will then send you mine!

  2. Why are we hiding from the Truth. The Reconstruction was when we re united as a nation. We already forgave our brothers. This is a confusing action , seemingly only for social.engineering.

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