Sometimes the culture war is about… culture.
A House subcommittee will meet today to hear arguments against a proposed memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower which reignites that age old aesthetic grudge match: Modernism versus Classicism.
On the Modernist side is revered architect Frank Gehry, who received the commission to build an Eisenhower Memorial near the National Mall in Washington D.C. According to AP: “Gehry proposes a memorial park framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Kansas. Two large carved stones would depict Ike as president and as World War II hero. A statue of a young Eisenhower would appear to marvel at what his life became.” (See illustrations here.)
As anyone who’s ever been to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles can tell you, Gehry’s futuristic, out-there creations are the polar opposite of the Roman temples that prevail in governmental Washington.
On the Classical side is Ike’s granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, who is expected to speak against Gehry’s memorial plan in the House today. Ms. Eisenhower is reportedly not crazy about the statue of young Ike as a barefoot boy from Kansas. Another critic is Chicago investment manager and philanthropist Richard Driehaus who thought there should have been an open design competition for the Memorial like there was for the Vietnam War memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
But that’s nothing compared to the vitriol uncorked by traditionalist architect Leon Krier, who went off on Gehry’s design, asserting that Eisenhower himself hated modernism and by extension, would hate this planned tribute to him:
“Looking at his work and reading his justifications I conclude that Mr. Gehry is a great but greatly confused artist, who was appointed by a commission who shares his intellectual confusion and distaste of a classical Washington, D.C.
“The scale and character of the blotted tagged fence relates more to highway billboards and graffiti than to the historic tapestry it declaredly refers to. The giant illustrated screens intend to create a sacred memorial area, but the devotional imagery is perceived like a mere backdrop through a thicket of trees, best read from the outside. The centerless monument effectively amounts to an open-air cinema overtaken by a wild-growth of sycamore. An anti-monument if there can be such a thing.”
“He frivolously overlooks the fact that American democracy and institutions are to this day uniquely associated with and symbolized by Classical and Traditional Architecture, and that 99% of private residential architecture is of traditional orientation, if not conception.”
“I am not of those who believe that this memorial will violate the integrity of Washington, D.C. in some new way. That herculean task has already been superbly accomplished. Deplorably, if this project goes ahead, we will miss yet another great occasion to finally stop the self-destructive rollercoaster which has been disfiguring the Nation’s capital and soul for three-score years.”
And this is over how to honor the moderate, anti-military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower. Imagine the Classical v. Modernist cage match over, say, a Ronald Reagan Memorial.