A van plowed into the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on Saturday night, toppling two 1961 Wheeler Williams statues displayed in front. No injuries were reported, and the hit-and-run incident is currently under investigation, according to a Memphis Police Department spokesperson.
The two damaged sculptures were part of Williams’s Spring, Summer, Fall (1961), a series of three partially draped woman figures representing the three seasons. The statues have been on outdoor display at the museum for over 60 years. In 1998, the institution moved the works to their current location in front of the Beaux Arts-style wing built in 1916.
Police responded to a call at 9:21pm on Saturday, October 28. The driver had reportedly squeezed between a tree and a number of safety posts before hitting the two sculptures, a bench, and the side of the building. The car sped off. The next day, the museum opened as planned and did not close any of its exhibitions.
The museum broke ground this July on a $180 million expansion in downtown Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi River. Citizens sued to stop construction, claiming that the waterfront belongs to the people of the city, and a decision has yet to be reached.
“We are extremely grateful that no one was injured in this incident, particularly in light of the fact that earlier that same day, more than 3,000 people were on our plaza for our Dia De Los Muertos celebration,” Memphis Brooks Museum of Art spokesperson Jeff Rhodin told local news outlet ABC24.
Wheeler Williams, who was born in 1897 and died in 1972, left behind a body of sculpture that mirrors the Art Deco aesthetics of his lifetime. In 1949, an aluminum Williams work titled “Venus of Manhattan” was installed at 980 Madison Avenue, the former site of the Parke-Bernet Galleries. Another large-scale public commission titled “Settling of the Seaboard” (1942) stands in Philadelphia.
In Washington, DC, Williams’s 10-foot-tall bronze statue of former United States Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft towers over the grounds of the Capitol. Taft, a prominent conservative leader in mid-century American politics, helped propel McCarthy-era communist hysteria. Williams himself bought into the witch hunt, penning a 1959 manuscript titled “Confusion in the Art World” that sought to illuminate connections between communism and the arts.
No suspects have been identified as of the time of this publication. This is a developing story and will be updated with new information as it becomes available.