Washington Examiner Editorial: “Ike Doesn’t Deserve Ugly ‘Iron Curtain'”

The Washington Examiner editorializes:

Examiner Local Editorial: Ike doesn’t deserve ugly ‘iron curtain’

June 02, 2012 — 9:18 PM
Renowned architect Frank Gehry calls the steel backdrop he designed for the new $120 million Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial a “tapestry,” but former President Eisenhower’s family refers to it as an “iron curtain” instead. Art is in the eye of the beholder, but one viewer who saw photographs of an August 2011 mock-up submitted to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (EisenhowerMemorial.net) described it as “a rat’s nest of twisted steel.” Another suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that “as a lasting tribute to a great president it should be completed and installed along the 38th parallel to ensure that North Korea never ventures within eyesight.”

If Gehry gets his way, the metallic scrims will be suspended from 80-foot-tall columns opposite the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on Independence Avenue. Larger than Los Angeles’ iconic “Hollywood” sign, the metal curtain purports to portray idyllic scenes from Eisenhower’s Kansas childhood. But the farmhouse is partially obscured by a river of twisted metal that looks more like concertina wire that amber waves of grain.

Gehry’s original design depicted Eisenhower as a farm boy, not as the supreme allied commander who liberated Europe from the Nazis, or as the nation’s 34th president who desegregated the Armed Forces and the District of Columbia. His family members — including Ike’s son, retired Brig. Gen. John S.D. Eisenhower — objected in a January letter to the National Capital Planning Commission, and their objections were echoed by several prominent academics, including Williams College art professor Michael J. Lewis, who wrote that Gehry’s design “is scarcely a memorial, let alone a monument,” but a “theme park of billboards and fragmented colonnades” that fails to capture the essence of its subject.

On May 15, Gehry unveiled major changes that he made to reflect the family’s concerns. He added 9-foot-tall statues of Eisenhower as a World War II hero addressing his troops and as president, and portrayed the young Ike as a West Point cadet. But the largest and most expensive element of the original design — the “tapestry” — remains, which the family continues to oppose for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Although the Eisenhower Memorial Commission approved of Gehry’s revised design, it has delayed a formal vote. “Just because a world-famous architect has submitted a design does not oblige us to build it,” Lewis noted. So the commission still has time to ditch the ugly iron curtain.

Ike deserves better. So does Washington.


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