Addressing the Statue

July 16, 2019 — January 23, 2022


Akeley Gallery, 1st Floor

People standing in a indoor exhibition room, looking at images on a wall.

The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned in 1925 to stand on the steps of the Museum, on city-owned property. It was unveiled to the public in 1940, as part of a larger New York State memorial to former N.Y. governor and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

The statue was meant to celebrate Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) as a devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history. Roosevelt’s father was one of the Museum’s founders, and the Museum is proud of its historic association with the Roosevelt family.

At the same time, the statue itself communicates a racial hierarchy that the Museum and members of the public have long found disturbing. What is the meaning of this statue? And how should we view this historic sculpture today?

As part of a national conversation about problematic public monuments, and following the report of the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, the Museum is providing new context and perspectives, presenting the history and rationale for the statue while explicitly acknowledging its troubling aspects.

To understand the statue, we must recognize our country’s enduring legacy of racial discrimination—as well as Roosevelt’s troubling views on race. We must also acknowledge the Museum’s own imperfect history. Such an effort does not excuse the past but it can create a foundation for honest, respectful, open dialogue.

We hope this exhibition, together with other efforts to address cultural representation at the Museum, will inspire such discussion.

New York City Commission on Controversial Monuments

In 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio established a commission to evaluate a number of controversial monuments around the city, including the Roosevelt statue, which sits on city-owned land. The City determined that the Roosevelt statue would remain in place but that more information should be provided.

This project seeks to provide visitors with greater context for the statue by presenting the intention of the original planning commission as well as the intentions of the architect who designed the memorial and the sculptor who created the statue; the ways in which the statue is interpreted today; and multiple perspectives on how the statue might be addressed in the future.