WaPo’s Philip Kennicott: Eisenhower Memorial Is Dehumanizing, “May Read as Soviet”

Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post’s culture critic, has been one of only two critics to wholeheartedly defend Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial (the other being Witold Rybczynski).

However, Kennicott appears to have forgotten what he wrote about the design in 2010, as was pointed out in this published letter to the editor by Justin Shubow, president and chairman of the National Civic Art Society:

In attacking the National Civic Art Society’s report on the Eisenhower Memorial (March 20), Philip Kennicott did not note that his own opinions are scrutinized therein. We severely criticize his recent defense of Frank Gehry’s design, and note that in 2010 Mr. Kennicottwrote the following in The Washington Post: “[T]he columns have a mute blankness that may read as Soviet, and their scale overwhelms even the Mall’s most overtly authoritarian structure, the National World War II Memorial. Their austerity may also feel like an extension of some of the worst dehumanizing elements of L’Enfant Plaza north, to the very edges of the Mall.” Does Mr. Kennicott now wish to back away from that interpretation, or does he find a Soviet, dehumanized memorial appropriate for President Dwight D. Eisenhower? [emphasis added]

Need we note that President Eisenhower was a staunch anti-communist?  Kennicott is not the only person to describe the Memorial as suggesting Soviet design.  Susan Eisenhower made a similar claim in her testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Public Lands, and Forest:

Modern Tapestries: The design team at Gehry and Associates and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has made a habit of referring to the metal curtains as “tapestries,” referencing the tradition to place great people and events on woven material. This may be true of the Middle Ages, but noteworthy modern tapestries are those in the Communist world. Tapestries honoring Marx, Engels and Lenin used to hang in Red Square; Mao Zedong could be found in Tiananmen Square; and Ho Chi Minh’s tapestry hung from public buildings in Hanoi—to name a few.

Iron Curtain: Other critics have noted that we will be putting up an “Iron Curtain to Ike.” Given this symbolism, could the proposed cylindrical columns also be misconstrued as symbols of missile silos?

See also George Will’s devastating reply to Kennicott, who belittled Eisenhower while defending the design, which he wrote, ” inverts several of the sacred hierarchies of the classical memorial, emphasizing ideas of domesticity and interiority rather than masculine power and external display.”

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