Arts and Culture

After an initial conservation assessment of the nine-ton marble King Louis XVI statue showed “extensive damage,” Metro officials are seeking additional professional input and looking at how much repairs will cost. 

City crews removed the statue from outside Metro Hall early September. It had sustained damage, from paint and the removal of parts such as its hand, beginning in late May, when racial justice protests began in the city. In a statement, Mayor Greg Fischer had said they were concerned that any additional damage to the statue would create a public safety issue. 

Some Metro Council members want the piece returned to the corner of W. Jefferson and 6th streets.

Kevin Kramer (R-11), Anthony Piagentini (R-19), Brent Ackerson (D-26) and Marilyn Parker (R-18) are sponsoring a resolution, filed Monday, calling on the mayor to “repair, restore and reinstall” the King Louis XVI statue. It’s currently scheduled on Tuesday’s council meeting agenda.

“I’m told that’s the plan, to put it back where it was,” Kramer said, according to a WAVE 3 report. “We will go ahead with the resolution just to make it clear that we understand that’s what [is] being talked about. We just want to make sure that it’s on record somewhere that the goal is to get it back to that location.”

But a statement from Louisville Forward said that the statue’s future is still up in the air.

“We are reaching out to regional conservators for additional assessment and repair estimates,” the statement said. “Beyond that, there are no plans at this point regarding the future [of] King Louie’s statue. It will remain in storage until more information is gathered.”

Metro Louisville’s Commission on Public Art will convene for its regular meeting on Monday. Public art administrator Sarah Lindgren said COPA’s Metro Council liaison will provide an update on the resolution during the meeting, but the commission members will not take up a “specific action item” to vote on. 

Initial Assessment: Outdoors Is Not Safe For The Statue

Louisville firm Falls Art Foundry conducted the assessment and found the damage in “three different forms”: from exposure to the outdoor elements, the paint applied onto the statue and “the physical removal of the arm and other pieces.”

“Marble is not suitable for outdoor display,” the assessment said. “As marble is exposed to weather the surface deteriorates. While the overall appearance remains consistent, the surface becomes porous with the texture of sandstone. The texture grows quicker the longer the exposure persists. Water soaks in the porous surface exaggerating the negative effects of the freeze thaw cycle of our climate which can create cracks.” 

Those cracks have destabilized the entire statue, the assessment went on, and while that can be repaired, Falls Art Foundry recommended it not remain outdoors. 

“The level of instability is not easily ascertained, but outdoors it should not be considered safe.”

That porous surface will also make paint removal more challenging.

“The usual solvents used to remove paint will possibly work, but the danger remains that the paint will work further into the piece,” it found.

In conclusion, Falls Art Foundry conservators “decided it best to not take this work on ourselves,” recommending the city seek out the consultation of a stone conservator.  

According to records obtained by WAVE 3, the removal contract that the city agreed to with Padgett, Inc. in mid August included a price tag of $27,334.50.

A spokesperson with Louisville Forward said its office has received only one or two calls regarding the statue and its fate. She also said that other pieces that have been doused in paint or damaged in recent months, such the George Rogers Clark statue at the Riverfront Plaza, have been “cleaned the morning after it was vandalized by in-house staff.” 

“Other sculptures that have been vandalized have been similarly cleaned. Louisville Metro will undertake an assessment of all the damaged public art at some point to see if they need more thorough cleanings or if there are structural issues, but we don’t have a timeline on when that will happen.”

In September, public art administrator Sarah Lindgren told WFPL that, as debates take place over what public monuments and statues should or shouldn’t remain around the city, she and commissioners are just as focused on what kinds of public art are missing. 

“Of course, there are things that maybe have controversies around them or questions around them, but when we look at who is represented and who is not represented in that collection, there’s a lot of gaps and and that is as much a problem as any one controversy in an existing artwork,” Lindgren said.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.