Frank Gehry’s proposed Eisenhower Memorial

In November I posted about the controversy surrounding the Eisenhower Memorial scheduled for groundbreaking early this year. The Frank Gehry designed monument will be directly on the Mall, near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and within easy view of the Capitol Building itself, some prime real estate to say the least. I wrote my masters thesis on Eisenhower and believe him to be worthy of this distinction. Public art is almost always fraught with controversy, something no one understood better that Ike himself. Speaking at the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Museum of Modern Art in 1954 President Eisenhower noted that “as long as artists are free to create with sincerity and conviction, there will be healthy controversy and progress in art.” Controversy can indeed be healthy, moving good ideas forward and pushing bad ones aside. Still, it is this writer’s humble opinion that the design does not suit the subject or the site. Modernity itself did not intimidate Dwight Eisenhower, but the avant garde memorial does not align with how the general and president lived and saw the world around him. Eisenhower’s family has become more vocal in their opposition. Grandson David stepped down from the Commission in December and last week the family issued a letter to the National Capital Planning Commission expressing its disapproval. It will be interesting to see if the projects moves ahead in the face of this opposition.

In other news concerning memorials on the National Mall, the Department of the Interior will change a quotation on the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument to better reflect Dr. King’s words. As currently written the inscription has King saying

“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

In a February 1968 sermon know as the “Drum Major Instinct,” King said

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Critics, including Maya Angelou, believe the paraphrase does not accurately reflect King’s statement. The Park Service will consult with the King family and scholars to create a new inscription.

(image/Eisenhower Memorial Commission)