Frank Gehry’s proposed design for an Eisenhower Memorial—featuring large screens surrounding a statue of Eisenhower as a barefoot boy—has drawn a great deal of controversy. This came to a head in a recent public meeting when Gehry was confronted by an audience member. From a transcript of the event:
I happen to think that the giant screen represents winter, permanent winter — trees without leaves. It represents death and nihilism — in the same way that I see your black t-shirt [referring to his attire], much beloved by downtown hipsters and nihilists everywhere — and it’s a total rejection of the past and tradition and, honestly, of everything that Eisenhower himself stood for.
These remarks—reflecting the thoughts of many designers and other observers—were met by applause from the audience and silence from Gehry. My take is more positive than some. I think the design has its merits as an abstract form. There’s something eerie and evocative about screening in an outdoor space.
Still, to whatever extent it functions as a monument, it is a monument to the vision of its designer, not the unassuming public service of its subject. It speaks more of Gehry’s “boldness” (and the boldness of those who approved the plan, of course) than of Eisenhower’s bravery. If we are to be honest about it, then, we should either reassess the plan or rename the memorial for its creator.