Former U.S. Fine Arts Commissioner Looks Ahead to a Modest Statue Replacing Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial

According to its self-description, “The [U.S.] Commission of Fine Arts, established in 1910 by Act of Congress, is charged with giving expert advice to the President, Congress and the heads of departments and agencies of the Federal and District of Columbia governments on matters of design and aesthetics, as they affect the Federal interest and preserve the dignity of the nation’s capital.”

When a member of that important  Commission, esteemed architecture critic Witold Rybczynski supported Frank Gehry’s deconstructionist design for the planned National Eisenhower Memorial. Now, however, he looks ahead to what should replace the extremely unpopular design:

Simply Ike

November 30, 2012

The final review of Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., has been postponed yet again and the project seems more and more likely to be shelved. In a recent letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye, John S. D. Eisenhower, the President’s son, raises an issue that has nothing to do with the quality of Gehry’s design (which I have supported), nor with the over-wrought classical-modernist debate. Why couldn’t the memorial simply be “a green open space with a statue in the middle” he asks? Good question. Ever since the FDR Memorial spread over more than seven acres, memorial sponsors have felt the need to appropriate large sites, and then fill them up with water basins, fountains, figures, walls, and reams of quotations. The lackluster Korean War Memorial occupies over two acres, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial uses three acres, Martin Luther King Jr.’s overblown memorial sits on four acres, and the memorial to World War II consumes no less than seven. John Eisenhower’s suggestion of turning the four acres of the  proposed Eisenhower memorial into a green square with a single statue of the President would reverse this trend. The challenge would be to find a modern sculptor who is up to the task of creating not merely a depiction of the president-general, but a work that captures his somewhat elusive mixture of modesty, shrewdness, and grit. The moving statue of Eleanor Roosevelt by Penelope Jencks in Riverside Park is one model. The memorial to Winston Churchill in Parliament Square in Westminster is another. Ivor Roberts-Jones’s bronze is twelve-feet tall and stands on a plain granite block inscribed with one word—CHURCHILL. The Eisenhower memorial could say simply IKE.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt by Penelope Jencks, 1996

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt by Penelope Jencks, 1996

Statue of Winston Churchill by Ivor Roberts-Jones, 1971

Statue of Winston Churchill by Ivor Roberts-Jones, 1971

2 Responses to “Former U.S. Fine Arts Commissioner Looks Ahead to a Modest Statue Replacing Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial”
  1. Hear! Hear!…. I could not agree more..!
    As a “modernist” architect I think that the Gehry design is bombastic, pretentious and a shameful example of what incites the lay public to attack modern architecture…. compared to the Louis Kahn Roosevelt memorial in NYC this is an excruciatingly embarrassing project… it makes defense of modern architecture just about impossible…. I would have to side with the Republicans on this one…

  2. Ray Gibson says:

    I agree with the objections to the Frank Gehry concept for the Eisenhower memorial. My idea is this, and I’ll be glad to forward it to the commission when they open a new competition for the design. Ike, like many soldiers and statesmen before him, talked a lot about freedom and responsibility. My concept is that of Ike in a simple, appropriate pose, maybe standing next to a podium making a speech. On the front of the podium would appear these words, a partial quote of his: “Freedom has its life in the hearts , the actions, the spirit of men, and so it must be daily earned and refreshed.”
    And across the base of the statue would appear these words chiseled into the stone” We Like Ike.”

    Ray Gibson

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