THANKLESS

gehry_eisenhower_approved_03How much influence does fundraising for a president buy you? Apparently, not much. In September 2012, Frank Gehry joined Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Claes Oldenburg, and other prominent “Artists for Obama” in contributing to a portfolio that was presented to big donors and is estimated to have raised $4.2 million for the president’s re-election campaign. This week the White House announced the appointment of the president’s new representative on the commission that is overseeing the design and construction of the planned Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is being designed by Gehry The appointee is Bruce Cole, an art historian and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (under George W. Bush). Cole is also an outspoken critic of Gehry’s  design. In The Weekly Standard, Cole called it “incoherent” and “unintelligible”; in the Washington Examiner, he went further, calling it “a cross between an amusement park and a golf course.” Cole advocates terminating Gehry’s contract and starting the memorial design process over, which is also the opinion of the National Civic Art Society, on whose board of advisors he serves. The NCAS has diligently stoked the public debate that has pitted conservatives–political and architectural–as well as members of the Eisenhower family, against supporters of Gehry’s design such as the American Institute of Architects, and several architecture critics (including the author). President Obama has not previously expressed any strong opinions on architecture (remember the bland redo of the Oval Office?), so his endorsement of the NCAS position comes as a surprise. Not least, I imagine, to Frank Gehry.

4 Responses to THANKLESS

  • Lyle Sanford says:

    Hi – saw a story that said this appointment was made according to some sort of DC etiquette where for this particular slot the president nominates someone whose name is put forward by the opposing party – not someone of his own choosing.

    • Witold says:

      Possible. A blog called Power Line cites message from Mitch McConnell aide: “Just noticed your post on Bruce Cole and wanted to let you know, if you didn’t already, that under the statute, Obama appoints whomever McConnell picks for the Republican slots on these bipartisan boards and commissions. So we have McConnell to thank for this, not Obama. Here is Daniel Foster’s National Review article from a few months back on the good work McConnell’s been doing with these boards. (As a footnote, the staffer who advises on these noms used to work with Bruce as counsel at the NEH…)”

  • Witold,

    We all complain about special interests buying Washington. Isn’t the opposite cause for celebration?

    John

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