The Eisenhower Memorial, in its current form, is both too big—the architect Léon Krier points out that the four-acre site could contain two Lincoln Memorials, two Washington Monuments, and two Jefferson Memorials—and too diffuse. Uncomfortable and squeamish about proclaiming greatness of any sort, it distracts with visual anecdotes and in the end offers much to look at but nothing to stir the soul.
Some years ago I wrote in these pages that in stone one builds exclamation points, not question marks. The Eisenhower Memorial, as Gehry envisioned it, is a question mark. Eisenhower himself did not have time for many questions when he was called upon to win the most crucial war in human history and then a few years later to steward the grateful nation he had helped lead to the pinnacle of its own greatness. That is the quality of humankind that a monument exists to evoke. There have been and will ever be millions upon millions of tousle-haired youths in Kansas. There was, in history, but one Ike, limited in the qualities of “domesticity and interiority” so prized by Gehry’s biggest fan and awash in the “masculine power” that gives so many so much pause today. Doubtless that power was somewhat important when it came to summoning up the courage and strength it took to save the world.
Michael J. Lewis, a frequent contributor, is Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College.