There’s been so much public quarrelling about the Frank Gehry proposals for the design of the Eisenhower Memorial that I’ve avoided it in general as a topic here—the story feels done to death, pardon the pun. However, this piece by Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post is of particular critical interest. It neatly dissects David Brooks’s sloppily written op-ed in the New York Times. Kennicott observes:
Brooks likes the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials because they invite you to look up at the great man. He argues that more recent memorials “evade the thorny subjects of strength and power.” The Maya Lin-designed Vietnam Veterans Memorial is “about tragedy” while the Korean memorial “is about vulnerability.”
But these are war memorials, not monuments to individuals. They aren’t about leadership, but rather about the most colossal failure of leadership. The Maya Lin-designed Vietnam memorial, which isn’t just about tragedy but also about shame, doesn’t wallow in victimology. It screams truth at power.
Brooks never really answers how one might design a contemporary memorial in a way that deals with power and authority in more subtle, complex ways, a memorial that celebrates Eisenhower’s obvious greatness, yet acknowledges the “paradoxes” of power.