The National Civic Art Society has done yeoman’s work in highlighting the historical, cultural, and aesthetic follies of Frank Gehry’s proposed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower. Andrew Ferguson notes in the most recent Weekly Standard, the design is both “grandiose and pointless,” but as Jonathan has commented, the monument does in fact have a point: to revise and diminish Eisenhower. Its so-called tapestries remind the Society of a “rat’s nest of tangled steel,” though to my eye, they look more like metallic shoelaces fashioned into a post-modern memorial of mourning for Holocaust victims. There’s nothing heroic or triumphant about them, and that’s why they’re there. Entirely out of keeping with the rest of the Mall, and loathed by the Eisenhower family, they will–if constructed–soon go the way of most modern architecture: rain-stained, rusted, and broken, an enduring statement of our contempt for great men, our loss of the heroic vocabulary, and our refusal to stand up to the self-promoting cleverness of an artistic culture that exists to tell us we are not worthy of their genius.
Gehry’s philosophy of design reminds me of my encounters with deconstructionist theory in graduate school: disorienting, until you realize the point of the enterprise is not to convey meaning but to smash it, all the while assuming a pose of ironic, superior, unsmashed detachment in order to win immunity from criticism. Gehry’s leitmotif is that “life is chaotic, dangerous, and surprising,” democracy is either chaos or at best “controlled chaos,” and so buildings should be chaotic as well. This is the kind of thing that sounds good until you think about it for five seconds. Modern democracies are in fact the most unchaotic, predictable, secure societies in the history of the world – the only way they look chaotic is next to the Garden of Eden, or the paradise of the planner.