Dwight Eisenhower was one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, he led the United States to victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. As president of the United States, he presided over a period of normalcy and peace with many accomplishments that benefited the country. A memorial is to be erected on the mall in Washington, DC, in his honor.
Princeton’s Fred Greenstein rescued the reputation of Eisenhower’s presidency from liberal derision in the groundbreaking 1982 book The Hidden-Hand Presidency. Who will rescue Ike from the memorial to be erected in his honor? The cause is urgent and the time is now.
Frank Gehry is the architect of the proposed memorial. The works of Gehry are a blight upon the land. Gehry’s memorial design features large metal tapestries with images of Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas and a statue of a young Eisenhower seeming to marvel at what would become of his life. Gehry presents an intentionally reductionist and mystifying view of Ike. His proposed memorial effects a form of civic degradation at great public expense.
The memorial monstrosity is on the verge of final approval. It is time for intervention by President Trump or Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Today at NRO George Weigel reviews the procedural status of the memorial design and calls for a halt.
Weigel’s column is the latest in recent looks at the memorial that include Michah Meadowcroft’s “A whole tapestry of mess” (Washington Free Beacon), Alice Lloyd’s “Drunk history” (Weekly Standard) and Thomas Phippen’s “‘Tangled rat’s nest’ to memorialize Dwight Eisenhower” (Daily Caller).
Prominent art historians and critics have written with great acuity about Gehry’s monstrosity. See, for example, Catesby Leigh’s recent City Journal column “Monumental folly” and former NEH Chairman Bruce Cole’s New Criterion essay “A monumental shame.” Cole’s 2016 New Criterion review of the overstuffed Gehry biography by Paul Goldberger also provides useful background in this context. His review was aptly titled “All that’s Gehrish.”
Cole called out the memorial design in the 2012 Washington Examiner column “Proposed memorial is an insult to Eisenhower.” Cole decried Gehry’s “monumental farce” and offered these specifics:
To be built between the Department of Education and the National Air and Space Museum, it will occupy one of the most prestigious pieces of real estate on the Washington’s already overcrowded National Mall.
The grandiose “memorial” will encompass four acres dotted with random trees and paths bounded by 13 enormous towers, each as tall as an eight-story building. These towers will support colossal screens composed of strips of aluminum, Gehry calls them “tapestries,” but in fact they look like woven chain link fences.
But where’s Ike in all this? Never fear, a single short statue will depict him, as a barefoot country boy from Kansas.
Why? Well, as Gehry explains in his opaque postmodern jargon: “There are people that think this is too big a space for Eisenhower. He wasn’t as important as that space is. Why does he have a space that’s bigger than somebody else?
“He doesn’t. He’s gonna have a little plank, for a little boy. This is an image that’s going to contextualize and modify the location so it can accept that little frontispiece and not get lost in the hubbub of the city. I think it’s going to be very modest.”
Gehry, whose buildings often look like the wreckage of 747s or drunken skyscrapers, purposely subverts the order and stability of traditional architecture.
This is evident in his Eisenhower Memorial, 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 and many of the other buildings that line the mall.
We have a Gehry plane crash here in Minneapolis, on the campus of the University of Minnesota, overlooking the Mississippi River. It is the Weisman Art Museum. As a museum of modern art on a university campus, the design does no damage and provides some comic relief.
Not so Gehry’s proposed Eisenhower memorial. It is an exercise in reduction and forgetting: a postmodern twist on the idea of a memorial.
Cole concluded his column on this fitting note:
Gehry as a true postmodernist believes that there is little meaning in history and certainly no heroes. So instead of the feats of the commander in chief of the Allied Forces in World War II and two-term president of the United States, rising generations will see Ike, in Gehry’s words as “a little boy” lost in the maze of the architect’s ego.
That is, unless, those who still believe in heroes stop this traducing of our past.