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andrea geyer

From the Notebooks: Audrey Munson . 2004. research project, book      

March 2004

Two months ago, in my studio at the Woolworth building in downtown Manhattan, I looked out the window over Brooklyn. Then I turned and looked at the sculpture on top of the Municipal Building. I picked up a book to find the name of the golden sculpture dominating the Municipal Building: Civic Fame. I research the sculpture and stumble over the story of the woman who posed for it. 1913. Her name is Audrey Munson. Quickly I realize, she was the star of Manhattan, an early “supermodel” one could say. She posed for the sculptors of the Beaux Arts, for paintings, she acted on stage and was the first nude in a movie. Trying to find out more about her, I was slowly diving into a narrative.

Who was she and what life did she live? Was she rich, was she poor? What motivated her? There is a statue of her outside the New York Public Library on 42nd street, left hand side. Inside the library, I look for her, ask her name and search the databases. But I cannot find much at all. Her name is not part of the official New York History. But then I find a book American Venus. The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, and traces and people and stories. With every bit of information, I realize there is more to come. She seemed to be a model with a voice. In 1921 over the course of 20 weeks she published a series of articles in American Weekly a Sunday insert in the Hearst paper The New York American. For me it is in these articles that it becomes most evident that she took what she did very seriously and the artists she worked for appreciated her for that. She posed for hundreds of artworks, moving from one artist studio to the other. Supposedly there was a time when there were about 30 artworks based on her poses in the collection of the Met. After a while, I start to recognize her face in stone around town. She suddenly seems everywhere even though her name is hardly remembered: The Pulitzer Fountain in front of The Plaza Hotel, the entry to The Manhattan Bridge, the entry to Central Park at Columbus Circle, the relief above the Frick Collection entrance, at Madison Square Garden, in a park on the Upper West Side… . After some weeks of research, I realize that I just missed her in life. She died 8 years ago. I find out that right now a historian of her hometown and her half-niece are trying to finance a gravestone for her still unmarked grave. I have spent the last weeks looking for her story, collecting facts and fiction, to find her voice, her ideas among the narrative, the myth and I have just started. Therefore one could say this wall represents the end of an obsession and the beginning of a research. From the Notebook: Audrey Munson.

This Site of Memory. Audrey Munson
a mapping of Audrey Munson's years in Manhattan (click here)


The Queen of the Artists’ Studios. Audrey Munson. 10 of 20 articles. New York American. January 1921-March1921.
American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse. Diane Rozas and Anita Bourne Gottehrer.
The New York Chronology. James Trager
The New York Times. Historical Archive. 1905-1921
The New York Municipal Archive
I spoke with Barry Popik and Justin D. White who both have gone through significant effort to commemorate Audrey Munson’s life and generously shared information.

historical photographs: Library of Congress. Photography and Print collection and images reproduced from American Venus.
photographs of sculptures: andrea geyer

This project was realized with the general support of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Space Program 2004.