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Yesterday, Congress poked its nose into the debate over the Eisenhower Memorial on Maryland Avenue SW, which neoclassists upset with Frank Gehry‘s design have had remarkable success in elevating to a fever pitch on the Internet. Much of the coverage and the opposition thus far has centered on the objections of Eisenhower family members, who complain that the current design doesn’t focus enough on their ancestor’s monumental achievements, and read all sorts of terrible symbolism in the monument’s massive “tapestries.”
The most level-headed analysis comes from the Post‘s Phil Kennicott, who actually kind of likes Gehry’s design, and asks why we should care what President Eisenhower’s descendants think:
The involvement of the Eisenhower grandchildren also underscores the inherent problem of memorializing a civic figure too soon after his death. The Eisenhowers no more own the legacy of their grandfather than any soldier who served under him, or any citizen a century from now reading about him in a history book. When Susan Eisenhower said Tuesday that her grandfather “was well known not to have much care for modern art,” she introduced two irrelevant criteria for judging Gehry’s work: her memories of her grandfather, and her grandfather’s dislike of contemporary design. Memorials aren’t designed to appeal to their subjects, but to represent their subjects in meaningful ways to future generations.
I’m agnostic at this point on whether or not it’s a great design. It would have been nice to have a more open process through which more ideas could have come to the table. But putting the merits of the argument aside, being descended from a great person gives you no special right to how that person gets memorialized. So can we stop listening to Susan Eisenhower now?