We have tried to keep up with news regarding Frank Gehry’s planned Eisehnower Memorial design; we have opposed it. The latest news is good and, to my surprise, we have President Obama to thank for it. The AP reports:
President Barack Obama is appointing a known critic of the planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial design to serve on the federal commission that oversees the project.
The White House announced Obama’s intent to appoint former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Bruce Cole last month, but it drew little attention while Congress was in recess. Cole led the humanities endowment under former President George W. Bush.
In the past two years, Cole, an art historian and scholar, has published at least two articles criticizing architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial.
Gehry has proposed a memorial park with statues and images of Eisenhower as president, World War II hero and as a young boy from Kansas. Large metal tapestries and large columns would frame the park, with images depicting the Kansas landscape of Eisenhower’s boyhood home.
If the design is approved, “the nation will wind up with a monumental farce,” Cole wrote in The Washington Examiner in February 2012. He called the design “a cross between an amusement park and a golf course, which thumbs its nose at the neo-classical style of the great presidential monuments to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.” In The Weekly Standard, Cole wrote that the Gehry design is “unintelligible” and “more about his ego than about Ike.”
This is Obama’s first appointment to the bipartisan memorial commission, which was formed under former President Bill Clinton. Cole fills a Republican seat vacated by Eisenhower’s grandson, David Eisenhower. The seat has been vacant since late 2011 when David Eisenhower left the commission.
In an interview Tuesday, Cole said the memorial should reflect the war hero and 34th president’s career, values and principles, but he stopped short of calling for any specific changes.
“I’m all in favor of building a memorial to President Eisenhower. I think that’s an important thing the nation should do, and I’m very honored to be on this commission,” he said. “I hope that I’ll be able to work with the commission and bring, I hope, a diversity of opinion.”
Cole serves on the board of advisers for the National Civic Art Society, which supports classical architecture and has been a chief critic of Gehry’s memorial design, along with members of Eisenhower’s family. The group said Tuesday that Obama’s pick was meaningful.
“Not only has Obama acknowledged the controversy, he has knowingly appointed a known opponent” of the design, said Justin Shubow, the group’s president.
David Eisenhower, it should be noted, quit the commission in disgust. Too bad the AP forgot to add that bit of context.
Bruce Cole is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a formidable scholar of the arts, concerning which he is the author of many books on art in general and Renaissance art in particular. The AP story aptly quotes Cole’s previously published pieces on the Gehry design. Cole’s devastating critiques of the design are accessible here (Weekly Standard) and here (Washington Examiner). President Obama is to be congratulated on his appointment of Cole.
UPDATE: I should have known: Cole is on the case thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Although the appointment belongs to President Obama, I should have added the relevant context.