The Magazine

Re-Gendered Ike

Mar 12, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 25 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Among the many articulations of horror at Gehry’s handiwork, the most poignant come from Eisen-hower’s son and grandchildren. David Eisenhower recently resigned in disgust from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which recruited Gehry and approved his design. In a recent letter, the family said they are puzzled at the design’s emphasis on Eisenhower’s early life over his years as general and president, which were, after all, the proving ground of his greatness and the reason he deserves a memorial. They question the durability of Gehry’s gimmicks—the big wire screens and an inevitable array of hard-to-maintain and soon-to-be-obsolete “interactive technology” for children of all ages. (The devices are in keeping with the current requirement that any public work involving history be relentlessly pedagogical rather than celebratory or commemorative.) It doesn’t take an overheated imagination to see what will likely become of Gehry’s square 10 or 15 years hence: an acre here or there under repair and cordoned off by cyclone fencing, leaves tumbling across the empty plaza and gathering in remote corners, interactive displays broken and untended, and a handful of puzzled tourists wondering what they’re supposed to be looking at. This is not a memorial for the ages.

Indeed, as the family points out, it’s not really a memorial at all. But it is many other things. It’s an advertisement for the self-conscious quirkiness of an overpraised architect and a shrine to the pathetic intellectual insecurity of the commission that hired him. It’s a testimony to postmodernism’s ability to corrupt everything it touches. It’s an expression of the contempt one class of people feels for another far larger but less powerful class of people. 

Listen again to the Post’s critic in his rave review: “The effect will be that of a giant stage set enveloping a relatively small representation of Eisenhower, yet another inversion of traditional hierarchies that suggests a powerful sense of the finitude of man and the vastness of history, nature, and fate.”

And here are the Eisenhowers, from their recent letter: “Great monuments to our leaders are simple in design and made of durable stone for a reason. This memorial must speak to the ages and last just as long.”

We side with the Eisenhowers. The National Capital Planning Commission should too.

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