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Art Bar

Not so noble — It’s heartbreaking, really. John Massey Rhind’s “Victory and Progress,” 20-feet-tall bronze statuary (c. 1892-1902) from the Wayne County Building on Randolph Street at Cadillac Square, is lying somewhere in pieces in a warehouse on Michigan Avenue. The twin statues — each featuring a horse-drawn chariot led by men and accompanied by a female figure — are cracked from the removal and the interior steel armature is totally rusted through.

Recently, the Detroit News published an article by Joel Kruth about renovating the sculptures. The article reported on the debate to spend $668,000 on the restoration project when the city is in the midst of a budget crisis. It seems a pointless discussion, considering that, as Kruth reports, the money couldn’t be used in another capacity; it comes from a bond issued to renovate county facilities.

As Dennis Nawrocki notes in Art in Detroit Public Places (Wayne State University Press), the bronze sculptures, two of the oldest in the city, have aged beautifully to reveal a green patina. (The picture above is from Nawrocki’s book.) That’s why it’s disheartening to read the “objective” headlines from the News: “Costly fix for chariots under fire; Wayne taxpayers pay $668,000 ... while other buildings go unrepaired,” and hear what Detroiters have to say about fixing them. In response to the question of renovating them, posted by the Detroit News online, one reader thought it was a good idea to follow through with plans so that the building will “look good on TV during the Super Bowl.” Another reader responded: “Maybe, but only with private money, not tax dollars.” Others felt they were not worth restoring at all.

In the 2004 Best of Detroit issue, MT editorial staff called “Victory and Progress” the “Best public-art reminder of a public that’s no longer there.”

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