I have not seen the new Martin Luther King Jr. monument on the National Mall yet and am withholding judgement until I do. Based on what I have seen in the media however, artist Lei Yixin’s design seems a curious choice both for the subject and the location. The statue is inspired more by the Socialist Realism one would expect to see in Red or Tiananmen Squares than by the man who asked us to judge people individually by the content of their character. Indeed, the sculptor’s resume includes monolithic renderings of Chairman Mao in the brutalist style. Reviews have been mixed. Again, without having seen it I am withholding judgement.
Another artist, the architect Frank Gehry, is currently desiging a monument on the Mall for Dwight Eisenhower. I wrote my masters thesis on Eisenhower and feel I know something about the man. I admire Gehry’s architecture, but his vision for the Eisenhower memorial gives me pause. His ideas include massive metal tapestries designed to look like the silos on the small Kansas farm where Eisenhower and his brothers grew up. These would in turn be held up by massive steel columns. In mid October Gehry answered questions at a gathering at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Eisenhower’s family has reservations, and others have expressed concern as well. Eisenhower was a more modern man than he is generally given credit for and he would not necessarily be against a contemporary interpretation of his legacy. One hopes, however, that Gehry fully articulates his vision before the project continues.