Eisenhower Memorial Clears Hurdle

August 5, 2013

The commission that oversees public art on federal grounds signed off on the architect Frank Gehry’s oft-disputed design for the planned memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts approved Gehry’s design on a 3-1 vote, clearing another hurdle for the monument, which has been stalled due to a long-running spat between Gehry and members of the Eisenhower family and their supporters. Critics of the design say Gehry’s work is too ambitious in attempting to honor a general and president who came from humble Kansas origins.

In particular, some objected to Gehry’s inclusion of 80-foot tall metal tapestries depicting images of Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, Kan., which would accompany bas-relief sculptures depicting Eisenhower’s military and political careers. The resulting monument would be far different from any of the other tributes to historical figures that line the National Mall.

The vote by the Commission on Fine Arts comes about a month after a special Eisenhower Memorial Commission gave its approval to Gehry’s design. That move, however, was not achieved without a bit of contention, including an appearance by the architect himself.

“I have spent the last four years immersed in Eisenhower’s words, and the words of those who have shaped how history will define him,” Gehry said at the June 19 meeting of the memorial panel. “These two perspectives are often at odds—one modest, the other monumental.”

Completely resetting the memorial, as members of the Eisenhower family and groups like the National Civic Art Society wanted, would not only have added years to the process, it also would have cost taxpayers an additional $17 million, the Congressional Budget Office reported last week. Last year, the National Civic Art Society even held a contest to come up with alternative designs.

But few public memorials are built and unveiled smoothly. A quote on the side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is in the process of being removed after many objected to the passage’s paraphrasing. In the early 20th century, many objected to the Lincoln Memorial’s depiction of Abraham Lincoln as more humanized than deified. Today, it is the most-visited site in D.C.

The $142 million Eisenhower Memorial also needs the approval of the National Capital Planning Commission before construction can begin. It also needs to be re-authorized by Congress.


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