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Frank Gehry is Just So Done With the Eisenhower Memorial

The catty congressional yipping over Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial design continued yesterday when the Eisenhower Memorial Commission met to find a new direction for a bitterly wrangled-over project 15 years in the planning. As if preparing to wash his hands of the project, Gehry chose not to attend, which was just as well; lacking a quorum to decide the fate of the memorial, the lawmakers have pushed the vote back to September 24. The options on the table include a version that Gehry Partners revised (↑), eliminating the large metal tapestries on both ends of the park, but leaving the one stretched across the length of the space intact, and one with even further edits that aren't Gehry-approved, requested by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), wherein all of Gehry's columns and tapestries are removed, leaving only "the core": essentially just some trees with a collection of statues and bas-reliefs. If the latter is selected, Gehry has informed the committee he will request his name be removed from the project.

The Washington Post has a very helpful explainer on how the project got to this point, and where it's likely headed. The Eisenhower family, whose opposition to the design has been expressed by comparing its appearance to that of a concentration camp (stay classy, Eisenhowers) and "the latter scenes of Planet of the Apes," recently proposed scrapping Gehry's design altogether, and spending what would undoubtedly be years selecting a new design. (Gehry would be welcome to submit another to the competition, they oh-so-graciously assure.) For his part, Issa seems determined to move ahead with any version of the project, if only to hurry along the increasingly inevitable-looking stage where it's abandoned altogether. The Post summarizes what would need to happen to see an Eisenhower Memorial built:

"If the NCPC approves either of the two new versions, the chosen design will likely need to go back to the Commission of Fine Arts for its support. In addition, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission must raise the money required for construction. The current design is estimated to cost $140 million. If it changes, so might its price tag." A commission spokeswoman tells the paper that the memorial has already spent $25M of the $63M it received from the government, with less than $8M paid to Gehry Partners, which might have been higher, but Gehry has not charged for his time. Once expected to raise $35M for the project, the commission has received less than $500K in donations.

Cut any way, all of this seems charted toward another of Gehry's plans for an important American space left dead in the water; the kind of eventuality that his design for the World Trade Center performing arts building reached earlier this month. But with a denouement nowhere in sight, it's worth remembering Paul Goldberger's point about the problem underlying the very idea of an Eisenhower memorial: "Eisenhower evokes few intense feelings. [...] [H]is measured eloquence and quiet, focused achievement weren't stirring. How do you design a memorial to effectiveness?" How you get one built is also far from clear.

· Eisenhower Memorial to consider plan that removes most of Frank Gehry's designs [The Washington Post]
· Eisenhower Memorial Panel Considers Gehry's Design [AP]
· Previous Eisenhower Memorial coverage [Curbed National]