I caught wind of a different kind of political art and politics of art this past weekend while reading the latest issue of Vanity Fair. As anyone who’s done any kind of planning in teams can imagine, building a monument can be a mighty task. As it turns out, the recent efforts to create a monument to US President Dwight D. Eisenhower have reached “fever pitch” levels of debate.
Legendary architect (and did you know he was Toronto-born?) Frank Gehry was selected by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission in 2009 to create the memorial. Since unveiling the first proposed design, two of Eisenhower’s granddaughters have raised criticism about what they’ve seen – that the only statue of Eisenhower was of him as a child and didn’t represent him as the president and military leader, that parts of it resembled billboards and missle silos, that its modern iron work resembled fences around concentration camps.
Gehry himself served in the U.S. Army while Eisenhower was president, and is said to remember him fondly for his modesty and strength. He followed one of his own experiences in creating his initial design. Shortly after returning from Europe just after V-E Day to a speech from Eisenhower in which he said: “Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy.”
Beyond that, an independent (and dare I say, busy body) organization called the National Civic Art Society, has also taken issue with the design. NCAS, who opposes modern design and advocates for a return to classicism, has built an independent campaign website to seek alternative designs (pillars, columns, and arches, anyone?).
In response to initial critiques Gehry unveiled a redesign last month, but it seems the debate will continue. Luckily for the memorial, Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, seems willing to give the project some breathing room so that the kinks can be worked out. He announced in June that he wanted to review the design himself and would like to have a meeting with the Eisenhower family, memorial commission, and Gehry. “Though it is important to move forward as swiftly as possible, our priority msut be in getting it right. If more time is required to get it right, so be it,” Salazar is reported saying.
I can hardly do a commission for one person, let alone an entire generation that holds a man to high esteem! Good luck, Eisenhower Memorial team. Remember to drink together and have patience!