The road to getting plans for the $142M Eisenhower Memorial approved has been as swoopy and nonlinear as his signature aesthetic itself for architect Frank Gehry. Over the past year, members of the Eisenhower family have spoken out against Gehry's design—"I don't think my grandfather would be comfortable with the scale and scope of this design," Susan Eisenhower said at one point—and the National Civic Arts Society launched a full-on assault, complete with a book-length manifesto about how "the Memorial competition, planning, and design were and are irredeemably flawed." They even went so far as to say that "the design of the boy Eisenhower statue is being advised by an artist whose work sexualizes children and is obscene," and "the Memorial design has contained benches spelling out 'IXXI,' the Roman numerals for 9 and 11." For these reasons, the NCAS argued, Gehry "can no longer be trusted with its design."
Alas, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission stuck to its guns, maintaining their "enthusiastic endorsement of his design concept, and express our regret and sadness at the tone and nature of the selected comments that have been made on Mr. Gehry's design for the memorial." This summer, though, Gehry agreed to some minor tweaks: the main statue would portray Eisenhower as a standing young man (as opposed to a seated barefoot boy, which opponents deemed condescending), and there would be two other free-standing sculptures—Eisenhower as general and then president. However, those 80-foot-tall woven-metal tapestries, depicting scenes from Eisenhower's childhood home in Kansas, controversial in their focus on youth instead of accomplishment, remain.
The National Capital Planning Commission just released Gehry's new renderings; however, it won't review them and give the final go-ahead until next month. Until then, the brouhaha rages on. Perhaps this wouldn't be such a mess, Vanity Fair contributing editor Paul Goldberger has argued, if Eisenhower had been a more controversial figure. He "evokes few intense feelings," Goldberger wrote. "[H]is measured eloquence and quiet, focused achievement weren't stirring. How do you design a memorial to effectiveness?"
Speaking of effectiveness: now taking bets on that projected May 2015 opening.
· Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial [official site via Curbed DC]
· All Eisenhower Memorial coverage [Curbed National]