Posted by: Chris | February 21, 2012

The Eisenhower Memorial

This bit of local news probably concerns me more than it does much of the rest of you, but construction is set to begin soon on the new Eisenhower memorial on the mall and the current proposed design is an unbelievable travesty.  Really, I encourage you to take a look at the loathesome eyesore about to be unleashed on Washingtonians (especially in comparison to its relatively sightly analog: the Grant Memorial.  It’s massive (taking up a whole city block adjacent to the Mall) it is simultaneously too abstract and too narrow (free standing columns and building sized pictures built on a faux-Kansas landscape), and clashes with the entire aesthetic style of the rest of the mall (which is more Neoclassical than modernist).

Worst of all, and I know this is ostensibly in the eye of the beholder, the thing is fucking ugly, even by current standards.  The WWII memorial may be fairly unimpressive, the FDR memorial on the river is definitely a sprawling museum exhibit petrified in marble, and its neighbor, the brand new MLK memorial, has been widely derided by the press,* but all of the major recent additions appear stately when compared to the monstrosity to be about to be birthed on and born by the nation’s capital.

George Will’s recent column eviscerates the proposal, and with it an erstwhile suppporter from the Post, better than I could:

The proposal is an exhibitionistic triumph of theory over function — more a monument to its creator, Frank Gehry, practitioner of architectural flamboyance, than to the most underrated president…

Filling four acres across Independence Avenue from the National Mall, the memorial will have a colonnade of huge limestone-clad columns from which will hang 80-foot stainless-steel mesh “tapestries” depicting images evocative of Eisenhower’s Kansas youth. And almost as an afterthought, there will be a statue of Eisenhower — as a boy.

Philip Kennicott, The Post’s cultural critic, says that the statue suggests Eisenhower “both innocent of and yet pregnant with whatever failings history ultimately attributes to his career.”

Failings? A memorial is not an exhaustive assessment, it is a celebration of a preponderance of greatness.

Kennicott praises Gehry’s project because it allows visitors “space to form their own assessment of Eisenhower’s legacy.” But memorials are not seminars, they are reminders that a person esteemed by the nation lived and is worth learning more about.

Kennicott says that Gehry’s project acknowledges that “few great men are absolutely great, without flaws and failings.” Good grief. If Ike, with all his defects, was not great, cancel the memorial.

Kennicott celebrates the “relatively small representation of Eisenhower” because “there were other Eisenhowers right behind him, other men who could have done what he did, who would have risen to the occasion if they had been tapped.” How sweetly democratic: Greatness can be tapped hither and yon. But if greatness is so abundant and assured, it is hardly greatness, so cancel all memorials.

*I ran by it on Friday and found the statue mostly inoffensive.  If King were a stern autocrat rather than a celebrated civil rights leader, I might even consider calling it a success.

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