We have a lot to worry about right now. I’m not sure I have room to add another item to my worry list. Yet the Washington Post article on the controversy aroused by the planning for an Eisenhower memorial designed by Frank Gehry raises a new concern:
The controversy, both in the Eisenhower family and in the public, comes as Gehry’s concept for a memorial to the 34th president has been focused on what he calls “the barefoot boy” from Kansas.
Taken from a speech given by Eisenhower after he returned from the Second World War to his home town of Abilene, the barefoot boy image stresses Eisenhower’s simple roots and prevailing modesty.
To realize that visually, Gehry designed the memorial as a set of woven metal tapestries hung from large stone pillars that includes a wintry scene of the Kansas landscape. As Gehry has worked in collaboration with avant-garde theater artist Robert Wilson and focused on the theme of humility, the design for the memorial has emerged as more radical, innovative and unsettling than it seemed when preliminary models and renderings were first shown in March 2010.
Philip Kennicott’s Post article includes the link to his own earlier article on the memorial’s preliminary models and renderings. In the current article, Kennicott observes:
Gehry and Wilson are trying to break with centuries of tradition in the aesthetics of memorialization. The new memorial is conceived as a theatrical space in a parklike setting. The tapestry, which some have compared to a theater scrim, stands in stark contrast to the classical tradition of marble arches, pillars and other Greek and Roman derivatives. It is meant to be diaphanous and poetic, rather than solid and substantial.
The designers are also mulling plans for a statue representing the former president, but not in his role as chief executive or supreme commander of the Allied Forces, which liberated Europe from Nazi domination in World War II.
Is this some kind of a joke? Kennicott reports on the opposition of the Eisenhower family to the memorial designed by Gehry, though it states that David Eisenhower — a member of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission — supports it, according to the commission’s executive architect. Kennicott adds that he could not reach David Eisenhower for comment.
Susan Eisenhower, Ike’s granddaughter, released the following public statement on her family’s behalf. She emphasized that all members of the family agreed with it, which implicitly includes her brother David, who is the family’s representative on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission:
“The Eisenhower family is deeply honored that an Eisenhower Memorial is being planned … Family members, however, are concerned about the concept for the memorial, as well as the scope and scale of it [emphasis added]. We feel that now is the time to get these elements right — before any final design approvals are given and before any ground is broken.”
Shubow comments on the mismatch between Ike and Gehry:
The pairing of Ike with Gehry is a contrast of gray flannel with lamé, of sobriety with intoxication, of the Midwest with Southern California. Modest in demeanor and style, Eisenhower even hated the outlandish chrome detailing on post-war American cars.
It’s as if Norman Rockwell had been asked to paint a portrait of Lady Gaga, the plastic pop icon for whom Gehry designed a shapeless hat two years ago. (A tabloid could have headlined it “Gehry Goes Dada for Gaga.”)
I hope that David Eisenhower will speak up directly. In the meantime please read Shubow’s article, support the National Civic Art Society, and add this monstrosity to your worry list.