A government agency said Thursday that a controversial design for a memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring former president and D-Day commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, could move forward, despite scathing criticism from the architecture and arts community, members of Congress and even members of the Eisenhower family.
In a 3-1 vote, the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts approved the design by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, who was present at the vote, though the agency urged Gehry to improve several aspects of the design and provide the commission with more information.
Congress passed a law authorizing an Eisenhower Memorial back in 1999, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Commission has since received $62 million in taxpayer dollars to build it, in a space just south of the National Mall. But the design by Gehry, which includes giant columns, massive steel tapestries and a statue of a young Ike, has not been able to pass through the appropriate approvals.
"It's all about [Eisenhower], about trying to represent him," Gehry told the commission Tuesday. "Who he was, his vision. His words, his life."
Yet Gehry's design has been bitterly opposed by critics who say it doesn't accurately represent the 34th president. In January 2012, Eisenhower's granddaughter Susan told Washingtonian Magazine that it did not look like a representation of her grandfather, but "like a theme park."
Thursday was no different. National Civic Art Society President Justin Shubow, a vocal critic of the Gehry design, told the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts that the Eisenhower represented in the memorial is "an unrecognizable, generic figurine without personality, character, or gravitas."
"What we see is a not a historical individual, but a stock character in a fable or an episode of 'America's Got Talent,'" said Shubow. "The statue is a sentimental piece of kitsch that belongs in a snow-globe."
Shubow called for the design to be scrapped in its entirety.
Sam Roche, a spokesman for Right by Ike, another group that opposes the design, told the commission that to "approve this design threatens to undermine the national consensus."
The commission nevertheless said the design could go forward. The one dissenting vote, architect Elizabeth K. Meyer, said she was "uncomfortable" approving the design without having all the needed information, and snapped that the other members could "vote how they want."
The memorial's next stop for approvals is the National Capital Planning Commission, but the memorial could also be upended in its entirety by Congress. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has introduced legislation to scrap the design and eliminate funding for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Commission.
In a letter sent to the commission in May, Bishop questioned the memorial's $142 million price tag, saying "significant questions remain about how the commission has been operating and spending [its] funds."