Foes of Eisenhower Memorial design hit snag
In the aftermath of President George W. Bush's disastrous escapade in Iraq, the right-wing clamor for a triumphalist monument to a wartime Republican president has gotten loud. But on Tuesday, the mounting political attack on architect Frank Gehry's more modest design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington slammed head-on into a wall.
The Associated Press obtained documents showing that David Eisenhower, the late president's grandson and the family representative on the memorial commission, had been an enthusiastic supporter of the project for a decade.
The younger Eisenhower joined the memorial commission in 2001. The AP reported that he "played a central role in selecting Gehry as the lead architect, according to the documents. David Eisenhower was the only person to serve on both the design jury and an evaluation board that recommended Gehry as the top choice to the full commission. When Gehry's selection was approved, David Eisenhower praised the 'integrity and excellence' of the selection process, according to the minutes."
Last July, Gehry told the commission that he was considering inclusion of a sculpture of the 34th president as a boy and metal "tapestry" images depicting Eisenhower's childhood home in Abilene, Kan., "bringing a representation of America's heartland directly into the heart of the nation's capital." Juxtaposed with sculptural reliefs of then-Gen. Eisenhower at D-day and later as president, the design would extol his role as leader of an army of ordinary citizen-soldiers who achieved greatness in World War II.
Commission member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) offered a motion to support Gehry's concept, the AP reported, while "David Eisenhower seconded it, and it passed unanimously."
Much of the opposition to Gehry's design has come from the National Civic Art Society, a local Washington group with ties to the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and others in D.C.'s right-wing establishment. The society champions a revival of 18th century Neoclassical style. Common Neoclassical precedents for depicting soldier-politicians include Ingres' painting of Napoleon as Zeus, ruler of Mt. Olympus, and Hiram Powers' sculpture of George Washington clad in Caesar's toga.
-- Christopher Knight
Photo: J.A.D. Ingres' "Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne," 1806. Credit: Musee de l'Armee, Paris