From Russia with Love? Monuments of Global Kitsch

The transactional nature of Trump’s world view has been so much on view in recent weeks that it is hard to shock. But the cast of characters involved in promoting a grotesquely colossal statuary of the navigator Christopher Columbus, cast out of bronze in Moscow, that he planned to install staring outer the Hudson River in 1997 on a new property development he had secured. If the story of this odd addition to New York’s many monuments–it was to be taller than the Statue of Liberty, an icon of American immigration and ideals–the authoritarian imagining of the navigator long identified with patriotic ideals is an early if particularly telling illustration of how transactional Trump’s world-views,– and how removed they were from any sense of the recreation of political space.

The oddly stateless notion of the figure of Columbus–evoking rational arts, to be sure, and a lettered tradition of civility, learning, and mental apprehension of the globe, beneath which a history of colonization is barely concealed-moves between different worlds as an emissary. The poise and stature of the figure of Columbus suggests a future able to move outside a state, or navigate stateless waters in a strikingly frictionless manner. Represented in 1892 in New York as a preeminent Renaissance figure, as if without concern of his relation to his surroundings, but to be a testimony to a removed past, but self-contained in his dignity, but affirming his role in spatial conquest in multiple ways.

Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle/Peter van der Krogt

The Columbus cast in the 1996 Tsereteli monument in bronze was triumphant in his ability to move outside of sovereign boundaries, demanding recognition as a vanquisher and victor who with the support of a foreign imperial ideology and faith, in the act of claiming ownership by a single gesture over a newfound land. First presented to Trump four years before he declared himself a candidate for the Presidential primary as a candidate for the Reform party in 2000, the image of such imperial identity would have provided a model for the excavation of a public sphere by entertaining a new symbolics of global empire.

Zurab Tsereteli, “Birth of a New World” (1997)

Without any sense of triumphant reaction to transoceanic travel, the odd image of an impassive, idealized, “white” Columbus erases race, omits questions about his own relation to the new land of the so-called American continent or its inhabitants, and seems to have been carried by the winds that billow behind him as if to designate him as a royal Catholic emissary of a foreign land, or ensure smooth landing in port as he guides his ship across international waters by anachronistic means of a rotary wheel. The kitsch image of the monumental Columbus would be an aspiration to a global stage that Trump had aspired with Trump Intenational, but was sanctioned by his post-Soviet hosts.

Was the monumental Columbus, first commissioned from Tsereteli in 1992, a prescient image of a future President who would distinguish himself primarily by moving outside legal precedent and defining his exceptionalism to the law? The monumental statue had its origins in the post-Soviet restructuring of Moscow by he new image of Columbus, who seemed to view Columbus as an iconic symbol of a new world order after the Cold War when Luzkhov and Tsereteli had jointly arrived in America to present “The Birth of the New World” as a gift of friendship, recasting this emissary from foreign lands as a triumphant herald of a new world order. By 1997, Luzhkov’s attraction of billions of dollars into Moscow’s development, as housing complexes replaced historic buildings and the monumental Christ the Savior Cathedral was rebuilt in its gold electro-plated splendor of onion domes as seat of the Patriarch, after Stalin had destroyed the structure with dynamite in 1931, represented the intersection grandiose plans for monumentality.

As the monuments and buildings of Luzhkov’s Moscow, tied to embezzlement for his wife’s development business, redesigned the face of the city Trump visited, Columbus was an apt choice of subject to curry Trump’s taste for grandiosity–and Trump’s penchant to place himself outside the law. Was the monumentalization of Columbus emissary of foreign lands, this image of a bronze Columbus cast in Russia, an oddly prescient image of a future President who has distinguished himself as working outside of legal precedent? Is it only unintentional that it echoes Trump’s ability to place his own speech as existing outside of the law–and indeed to place himself, or his invitation of a foreign government to intervene in American elections, outside the law? The sense that this Columbus travelled in international waters in new ways seems but his ability to block public or congressional testimony as U.S. President,–and his own legendary obliviousness to constraint?

The increasingly nationalist figure Columbus evokes seems a way of pandering to an audience, in “Birth of a New World,” seems a figure of sovereign authority taking command over a new world, hailing or heralding an imaginary audience with grandiosity and sovereign majesty that is not only un-American, but seems to be captured in the act of remapping global relationships in 1996, when Trump confirmed the impending arrival of the statue, shortly after he returned from Moscow, where he met the sculptor, and the man known as redefining the art of the deal signed a deal to license his name for projects of non-exclusive ownership funded by the post-Soviet government, with the promise of participating in the rebuilding of Moscow’s public space in the apparent free market of the post-Soviet era as a landscape of the flowering of capitalist construction and unprecedented building development. What Luzhkov¥ branded as a Europeanization of Moscow was criticized as a Disneyfication of nineteenth century architecture to a theme park.

Closely tied to building companies, including that of his wife, billionaire developer Yelena Baturina, Yuri Luzhkov’s restructuring of historical Moscow with a pseudo-historical opulence created a landscape rooted in replicas of rapid fabrication and hyper-development. It was typified by the restoration of the gold-gilded Christ the Saviour Cathedral, on whose site Stalin had built the monumental the Palace of Soviets on Moskva River–after having spectacularly dynamited the cathedral seat of the Patriarch, built by Tzars to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, which Stalin in 1931 Stalin had detonated in a public spectacle commanded as a vanishing of all solid to air, and the instantaneous vanquishing of a sacro-imperial past that Stalin had sought to symbolically banish by rebuilding a site for Soviet glory.

The curious coincidence between recycling a new icon of imperial authority whose grandiosity might appease or please Trump, his Moscow projects paused or placed on hold, was nothing less than a form of bait for the developer even before his political designs would become known. Did the promise of a statue of Columbus inflate the ambitious developer to imagine his role on a truly global political stage? The notion of placing Columbus, perched atop a global map that wraps around the statue’s pedestal, provided a cartoonish rending of the world as a global play space, removed from political power or individual claims, suggesting a sort of global chess board of confrontation and domibnation, as if rewriting public memory of an inhabited public sphere.

Yuri Luzhkov’s itineraries with Tsereteli to Miami, Washington, and other American cities, as a power-broker of a new age of development, shopped around a dunification of authoritarian monumentalism with Disneyfied kitsch epitomized by the 1997 erection of a statue to Peter the Great, at the costs of $120 million, across from the Cathedral’s gold domes–a work that epitomized his bend of populism and overbearing intervention in the re-engineering of Moscow’s public space to rewrite public memory in a seat where 80% of Russia’s wealth was concentrated–with two-thirds of foreign investment; he crafted his own style of privatization with the development firm of his second wife, Intenko, promoting a new vision of Russonationalism and Russian chauvinism while guiding Moscow through the real-estate boom in which Donald Trump had landed in 1996. When Trump toured the vast underground shopping complex, Manezh, beside Red Square, as a potential site to build a hotel.

At a time when increasing capital was arriving for construction projects in Moscow, Trump offered a known model for global capital, no doubt familiar to Luzkhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, who exploited her husband’s office as a developer, and whose connections to organized crime has been revealed by Wikileaks. Trump claimed losses of $916 million in his 1995 tax returns, as projects failed in Atlantic City and the Plaza; he hoped to refurbish his finances by ventures in Yuri Luzhkov’s Moscow, boasting to build Trump International and a new Trump Tower–expanding the developer’s 1986 hope, about which he crowed in Art of the Deal, for “a large luxury style hotel across the street from the Kremlin” bearing his name, despite resistance at erecting the world’s highest skyscraper in competition with the Kremlin–a qualification of which Trump’s unbounded ambitions were perhaps not aware.

In Moscow, Trump had proposed a $250 million investment for a Trump International complex at a November 1996 news conference, bragging upon returning to New York that his ties to Luzhkov boded success in building only “quality stuff”–when he first dropped a public hint about plans for the Columbus statue. The trip to Moscow was not so climactic, for Trump International, although the trip led to attracting Russian investors only to a Trump International Beach Resort in South Florida.

Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles. (Angel Valentin/The Washington Post)

One might pause, however, at this globe that Trump seems to have adopted as his new venture’s emblem, and the similarly gaudy image of a new globalism distinguishing Trump International–epitomized by the rebuilding of the enormous silvered globe encircled by orbital rings. This very globe long stood at the building Trump has rebranded as Trump International Hotel and Tower at New York’s Columbus Circle–as if the globe could provide a powerful basis of international brand that Trump could tap into having purchased the old Time-Life building at Columbus Circle, and the globe itself had come on its property.

The iconic statue outside Time-Life–or Gulf + Western building seems to have been prized by Donald Trump that it became a target of his desires. Yet in October, 1996, New York’s City Planning Department rejected the proposal to emblazon the orbital globe with “Trump International” on the orbital globe as a way to brand his new venture–but the developer took the shiny orbital globe, silhouetting the world’s continents on a thirty-foot wide globe, modeled after the Unisphere built for a 1964-65 World’s Fair, as fair game to brand his ambitions, as it lay on property he now owned, and even if the words “TRUMP INTERNATIONAL” were not emblazoned on it to reveal his new global ambitions, the shiny sphere was replicated, in Sunny Isles, as an icon of the global scope of Trump Properties.

Brandell Studios, Architectural Rendering

The provision of Trump with a new image of Columbus on his own Hudson Yards development would be, perhaps, an alternate glorification of hi self-fashioning and marketing as a truly international developer. Was the discussion of the arrival of Tsereteli’s monumental figure of the navigator meant to hold an image of the orbital globe that Trump saw as an emblem of his new expansive network of global real estate properties beyond New York City

The brokering of new sites of power and monumentality were both local, and occurred on an international stage. Was the statue of Columbus that Luzhkov brought to America nothing less than a bid to rewrite the memory of the navigator as a figure of the place of commerce in the globalized world. The monumentalization of the voyage of discovery installed eventually in Puerto Rico in 2016, on the eve of the Trump Presidency, hinted at a new image of authoritarianism to come, blurred and with soft edges: in casting a Christopher Columbus on steroids as an emissary of royal Catholic majesty, he seems almost an emissary of a new global order. If a relic of the rebuilding of Moscow under the Luzhkov’s corrupt mayoralty, when billions arrived in Moscow for rebuilding d to the awarding of building and development contracts often tied to Intenko, his wife billionaire wife Yelena Baturina’s real estate company, over the eighteen years he held power since 1992 in Moscow, rewriting the past by the free market, this unmoored Columbus, arms elevated in apparent victory, offered a disturbingly authoritarian image, inaugurating hidden financial exchanges in a new global era of illicit international transfers and underwater financial transactions.

This Columbus seems dressed in neoclassical robes to bolster his authority, and anachronistically cast as guiding his craft by a rotary wheel, but as an emissary of sovereign right, who claims a pride of place as existing outside any legal code or precedent. The evocation of such a figure of extra-legal majesty, and truly transnational authority, seems crafted from a symbolics of authoritarianism, dear to a devout sculptor who would specialize in Neo-imperial statuary, who had already reclad Tsar Peter the Great in Roman robes in a strikingly similar sculpture.

While no-one imagined at the time that Trump boasted to all who would listen that he had negotiated the arrival of such a statue that Trump would be United States President, the “gift” he announced was conveyed from the Russia people moved outside international laws. At the time, his own global ambitions as an hotelier drew attention post-Soviet society. And the approach, made by Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, cast an icon of patriotism in the guise of authoritarian nationalism, recasting the iconic figure of American nationalism in a sovereign fashion removed from legal precedent, democratic practice, or inclusive politics.

In deeply disturbing ways, the combination of self-interest and public interest, or the inability to distinguish self-interest and public interest, that is so characteristic of a Trump Presidency, seems encapsulated, before the fact, by the cloaking of the proposed arrival of this massive monument, whose height he specified as greater than the Statue of Liberty from the base of its pediment to torch, on a proposed riverside development on the Hudson, as a marker of personal and national grandiosity. The “gift” he claimed to convey from the “Russian people” would serve as an adornment to his projected properties, and elided international politics with international commerce of undisclosed nature, but touching on tax-free transfers of goods and cash, in ways that turned on a figure–the fifteenth-century navigator–who acted outside any body of laws, but as the emissary of a sovereign decree, in ways that were already disturbing to be seen as a basis for national identity.

The model was already presented as a gift to the United States when in 1992 Moscow’s new elected populist mayor Luzhkov proposed gifting the statue for the Columbus quincentennial, its size larger than the statue of Peter the Great would assume when it was erected in 1997 in Moscow, which assumed such status as an evacuation of public space. As billions of dollars entered Moscow–$4.6 billion of foreign investments in 1996–the monument that did not provoke engagement with the past but propose a traditional model of global authority suggest a distraction, a worthy precedent for Trump’s late massive monument of a border wall. As Columbus in “The Birth of the New World” seems to obscure all else to fill the fragmenting of the post-soviet state, the public statuary seeks not to create a new innocence and stability, in a time of uncertain post-Soviet social order, but a celebration of identity removed from social improvement, or from meaningful political action and inclusiveness.

Trump was eager to promote the promised arrival of the monumental statue to media outlets when he returned from surveying real estate prospects in post-Soviet Moscow, boasting about his contacts with the affable Georgian sculptor who had won the Lenin Prize and was awarded Hero of Socialist Labor. As much as only an artist, the sculptor Trump treated with customary familiarity by praising “this great work of Zurab” as a gift that it “would be my honor if we could work it out with the city of New York” manufactured his own authority as an international intermediary in ways that omitted that “Zurab” was not only an artist, but a bit of a figure of state, who identified his work as an artist as a Hero of Socialist Labour who designed war memorials, and statues in Soviet embassies throughout the world; since 1997 was President of the Russian Academy of Arts, offering multiple post-Soviet monuments including for 9/11 to other countries on behalf of the state.

And what better place to position the image of the fifteenth-century royal navigator than to detract attention from the Enlightenment inheritance of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the People, over which it would tower from the perspective of Trump Properties, in the New York skyline? It is telling that if Tsereteli’s later contribution of a statuary honoring 9/11, “Tear of Grief,” located in Bayonne, NJ, is situated in a site where it is seem before the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor–as if to redefine public political space and to take the place of the Statue of Liberty as the image that defined the visual experience of all who arrived in New York Harbor, rewriting the experience of universal ideals with mourning and global fears. The monument that used steel from a former Soviet military factory located in a Soviet “secret city” called Dzerzhinsk, suggesting its tie to a project of national calculations as much as a generous gift.

While artworks are branded an autonomous aesthetic status, the placement of Teresteli statues in embassies and consulates in Brazil, Portugal, and Japan, suggest we examine their role as an art of state. The promoting of the Russian-Georgian sculptor’s work transformed a relatively obscure Georgian artist to a figure of state in the post-Soviet era, as millions of tax dollars were pilfered to instal his folk-like sculptures in Moscow’s public spaces, imbuing with a false populism that suggests reproductions of kitsch inscribed with globalist ideals. The image of creating a new space of public admiration was central to Tsereteli’s works of art. “Make way, rogues of political blackmail,” reads a 1997 inscription on his monumental statue to Peter the Great, for founding a navy that was used to invade Ukraine, “Welcome the ship which has sailed into the eye of a grand Moscow scandal./ At the head of the tiny vessel . . . /Stand Peter in bronze!” The glorified elevation of its vision of authoritarian identitarian politics, familiar to post-Soviet Moscow as a new glue of public space, suggested a symbolics of political unity that Trump may well have taken as a model for global politics.

The attention-getting image of Columbus as a glorified authoritarian figure, to stand beside Manhattan in the Hudson, may have been far to heavy to be supported by the landfill of Trump Properties. The statue, weighing in at approximately 6,500 tons of sheer bronze, would not be likely to be supported by the landfill Trump had rezoned for residences. Rather than most solid metal sculptures built in Moscow, where a similar image of Peter the Great was erected in 1997, the image of Columbus would be hard to support. But the monument whose imminent arrival of which Trump boasted as an adornment to his most recent developent reveals a complex entangling of symbolic icons, redefining public spaces, and personal gain,

The recycling of patriotic platitudes in the monument during the post-Soviet era seems an attempt to refurbish Russia’s relation to the world. The monument Trump promoted was hardly designed with Trump in mind, or his property development as its intended site–but Trump Properties offered the perfect presence for its erection in ways that might be under the radar. Tseretelli had presented the statue, “Birth of the New Man,” to the city of Miami in 1992 to mark the cinquecentennnial of Columbus’ arrival, through a businessman with multiple Moscow business interests, Sol LeBow, who helped broker an early deal for the 600-ton sculpture by ponying up $20 million to install it off the beach, which brought both Luzhkov and Tsereteli to Miami’s City Hall during the Columban cinquecentennary in 1992, before Trump entered the scene. Once rejected, it was offered to the city of Columbus, Ohio in 1993, but rested in storage in Puerto Rico, an island where Columbus had actually set foot, and made landfall in 1493, before Zurab or his handlers proposed Trump serve as an intermediary who might erect it on his own property development whose monumentality would illustrate the majesty of the complex boasted to hold the hemisphere’s tallest building.

The image Tseretelli designed may have been preferred by the sculptor, but certainly made the rounds on the international stage. For Tseretelli presented a smaller version of the monument to UNESCO’s center in Paris in 1994, and a larger version in Seville in 1995, continuing to seek a global stage for the gigantic bronze monument, “Birth of the New World,” a vertical sculpture of the navigator before royal flags only installed in Puerto Rico in 2016. If the presence of patriotic populism provided a cover for transporting the statue across the Atlantic–or moving it up the seaboard–the prominent Muscovite’s backers, probably including not only Mayor Luzhkov but Vladimir Putin, who had begun to work in Moscow in the Department of residential Property Management; Trump was identified to bring the monument of the fifteenth century navigator to the New World as a new triumphant image of globalism.

John Alex Maguire/REX/
‘Birth of a New World’ by Zurab Tsereteli

The planned arrival of the monument designed by the court sculptor of Moscow’s mayor, Zurab Tsereteli, led Trump to gloat about the Neo-imperial visions of the fifteenth-century navigator raising his right hand to hail the world in an imperious neoclassical salutation of open address, that the sculpture was designed for his properties–“Zurab would like it to be at my [new] development,” blurring state and personal interests as only Trump can. While no one wanted the massive statue, which would long remain in limbo, the curious tracking of this gigantic monument spoke to Trump’s sense of grandiosity that may well have inflated his sense of himself as a global figure, and indeed paralleled the launching of Trump Properties on a global stage that makes one wonder about the power of monumentalism and Trump’s attraction to monumental art as a nexus of personal interests and state power.

The developer crowed about Zurab’s preferences as if to promote his new friendship with Moscow’s post-Soviet oligarchs’ preferred monument man, as well as to subtract himself from a grand affair of state that was working out around his land. The gambit to offer an apparent icon of patriotism, refracted through Tsereteli’s imperial lenses, shows an image of Columbus whose imposing presence stepped off a boat he apparently guided to the shores, hailing his presence before Christian-Imperial flags that double as the sails of the original caravel, an eery emissary of a new world order, offering no recognition of the inhabitants of this new land.

Trump was an unlikely medium of the monumental sculpture showing Columbus, hand raised in a gesture of imperial salute, as if victorious over a new continent, a statue that had itself in face mirrored the transatlantic voyage in traveling from Moscow, where it was cast, to the New World. And unlike the elegantly poised figure of Columbus poised contraposto Columbus standing elegantly atop a pedestal in Columbus Circle, the geometric center of New York City, the Columbus that Trump boasted to be built on rezoned landfill on the banks of the Hudson was Neo-imperial and gigantic in size. The sculpture that itself echoed the statue to Peter the Great of such massive proportions that had replaced the Soviet realist monuments of the past with a folksiness bordering on cartoons, in stone sculptures and brightly colored surfaces that captured Russian folklore and state emblems for the Russian Parliament in the White House, blurring state functions and public art with sacred art, who Moscow’s mayor acclaimed as a “new Michelangelo for our time.” When Trump celebrated the sculptor as both “major and legit” in 1997, was he only echoing the praise Luzhkov bestowed so lavishly on the Georgian-Russian sculptor whose work he had preferred as a new public language for state-sponsored art at a moment of historical change?

The comparison between Tsereteli and the papal sculptor Michelangelo, who was commissioned to design St. Peter’s dome by Pope Paul III, as a symbol of papal opulence and the chief architect of what would be the tallest dome then existing in the world, and a symbol of ecclesiastic grandeur, was telling. Boris Yeltsin visited the sculpture and called it “truly horrible;” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bemoaned the “massive and third-rate memorials” by which Moscow was increasingly “disfigured” as such state largesse was conferred on a romanticized past so huge and immersive that it all but erased the present, and seemed an unlikely hybrid of the cinematic and the folk that seemed to be most distinguished by abdicating any ethical code of governmentality. The very overwhelming nature of monumentality seems to drown the viewer in a mythic sense of transcendence of the state, and rehabilitates an imperial sense of conquest as natural.

But the comparison to Michelangelo would of course have appealed at base to Trump’s vanity. What was the inspiration for its future placement on Trump’s property? He had returned from Moscow, “impressed with the potential” of Russia’s capital and, after meeting Moscow’s mayor, investigating the possibility of Russian backing for the luxury complexes in the post-Soviet era, when intelligence sources were hoping to cultivate new foreign ties. The power of Tsereteli’s statues lay in their increasing universal reproduction of that, as Bruce Grant has identified in his compelling analysis of patronage of Tsereteli’s public statuary in Moscow, keeps an imaginary state in public eye even in corrupt regimes, that in its immensity all but erases civil society–an aesthetic, or lack of one, that seems oddly similar to the illusion of a symbolics of prosperity that Trump International increasingly sustained. Grant ties Tsereteli’s ability to sustain an “artful prosperity in elite Russian circles” in the post-Soviet era not only as a sign of corruption, but of how corruption offer a set of practices that reconstitute the state.

The Columbus figure that serves as a symbol of a “New World”–a figure rewriting the notion of the Soviet “New Man” or “man of the future” to be created by socialism, a superman emblematic of a world of post-scarcity, a man of selfless individualism, the sculptures of Tsereteli remove the state from political practice, and indeed rewrite the relation of the realtor to the past, by providing an authoritarian image of globalism or globalization from Russia with Love.

Trump imagined a sense of predestined grandeur as he fulsomely boasted to any who would listen about the raw materials of the statue he imagined he had helped arrange. He argued that then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who seemed eager to celebrate the Italian-American hero–to be on its way in 1996. “It’s got forty million dollars’ worth of bronze in it, and Zurab would like it to be at my [new] development,” the developer crowed to journalists, as if he had won the jackpot at the Trump Taj Mahal, or he had been made an argument that recognized the dominance he held on a global stage that had somehow eluded him in New York.

The arrival of such a towering monument of bronze, apparently with no strings attached, seems eerily of a piece with how funds were funneled, as we now know, thanks to a whistle-blower, by Russia’s state-owned bank, VTB (Vneshtorgbank), designed to forge international partnerships, by under-writing loans through Deutsche Bank, to Trump as the realtor was insolvent, according to recovered emails of Deutsche Bank executive William Broeksmit. (The bank had been placed under United States sanctions to punish its role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since July 2014, and needed to under-write any loan to Trump, but also funded the Trump Tower Moscow Project in 2015–only taken off sanctions at the start of Trump’s presidency in 2018, despite ties to the post-Soviet successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service, or FSB.)

The funneling of transatlantic funds provided a new world order whose dynamics it is hard to know if Trump in fact ever fully kenned. But the low of funds enabled a huge personal benefit–perhaps concretized in its immensity by the large statue that Trump claimed to have secured from unnamed Russian oligarchs for the Hudson shore. The personal jackpot lay in recouping plans for rezoning of the Hudson Yards for residential housing; Trump’s victory was comparable in its gigantic proportions to the much later 2008 rezoning of 125th Street in Harlem by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that prepared for the development of immense residential towers, opening a luxury market for housing that pushed processes to new heights in Harlem–as the ability to construct tall buildings along 125th Street opened the market for residential development that displaced once vacant-lots, brownstones, or low-occupancy; the towering structures of steel, glass and landscaped courtyards seem after-echoes of Trump’s presence in New York Real Estate.

The construction of these urban “oases” that separated from the city echo Trump’s logic and plan. The complex to be completed by the arrival of a monument to Columbus seemed akin to how a new world order began from the residential complex Trump promised to build on the once-offshore properties by the Hudson, imagined by the realtor as including the tallest tower in the world. And what better sign of such global. proportions than the tallest statue in the Western Hemisphere, marking fifteenth century navigator’s imperious conquest over space? Did Trump imagine Trump Properties as the natural center for a New World Order?

Such elite urban preserves real estate that act as isolated markets create huge markets for islands of investment as codominiums explode, displacing old residents in a new sort of urban colonization, in an open illustration of the conquest of space for a real estate market for which the monumental statue of the open signifier of Columbus would aptly convey majesty–weighing over 6,500 tons and double the height of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, the modern colossus suggested more than Columbus’ expedition to the Americas, but a complex of 2,500 pieces of bronze and steel manufactured in Russia, and some cast in a foundry dating from the era of Catherine the Great. The modern monumentality of New York real estate found a match in the huge statue, but the blurred combination of private interests and public symbolism prefigures the fluidity with which Trump has demeaned his public charge as if it were a basis to obtain private benefit, and indeed understood public office in terribly myopic terms of personal gain.

The recent arrival of similar huge towers, in Morningside Heights and along 125th, promising views of the Hudson River, promote an image of being apart from the commotion of the city, expanding the market for luxury housing with independent amenities as an exclusive shelter from urban life.

Vandervater Properties, Binyan Studios/NY Curbed

The eagerness with which Donald Trump as President so readily proposed to use his new office as commander-in-chief to commandeer drones to “target 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago) . . . important to Iran and Iranian culture” revealed a truly terrifying taste for targeting global monuments, and hold world heritage sites as a ransom, if not appropriating them as hostages, that stretch the boundaries of licit behavior and rules of international law–“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs . . . and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites?”–in a deranged logic recalling threats of comic books more than statecraft, By employing an oppositional logic to justify military action, Trump conflated global historical monuments with national assets, and cultural monuments as symbolic state assets, that betrays a taste for the spectacular value of military confrontation.

The logic of monuments was Trump’s entry to a global prominence in the 1990s, when the realtor boasted grandiosely of the commitment he gave to a “legit” sculptor engaged by Moscow’s mayor to be “working toward” the arrival of a statue Columbus, taller than the Statue of Liberty, to be donated by Russia’s government in the post-Soviet era to New York City to be built on the seventy-five acre tract on the Hudson River that Trump had recently bought and rezoned for residences. The goal of erecting a monument of national symbolism on the property he was developing had attracted the interest of New York Times reporter Michael Gordon no doubt because it was so unbelievable, if it also Hopes to mark the Trump development by a monumental statue planned to be larger in height than the Statue of Liberty from pedestal to torch used a stock image of patriotic iconography, less as a celebratory figure than a sort of golem of hidden finances, transatlantic transfers, and the projection of designs on a globalized geography.

The image of Colombus as Mammon, a world of wealth removed from anything like a spiritual plane. Columbus was a projection created for the egomaniacal developer for himself–but was no doubt tied to the network of Muscovite oligarchs and mobilized by their financial calculations as well as intended to promise Trump a tax write-off of massive proportions for the new development he saw as a crowning his achievement in redesigning the New York skyline, at a time when he first contemplated how New York City was not the world, but a global launching pad for Trump Properties. Unlike Columbus standing in midtown Manhattan, above an angle who had guided him to a new destination on the globe–a winged figure of Carrara marble known as the “Genius of Geography”–

–the imperial statue acclaimed the New World as if by fiat, its imperial gesture as dramatically out-of-step with the times as the statue cast in Rome and commissioned by New York City’s Italian-American community both recalled and was embedded in Michelangelesque ideals of contrapposto and torsion, placing his right palm on the globe as if to indicate the expanse of transatlantic transit as divinely revealed at the base of the Columbus column unveiled October 13, 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of the navigator’s landfall. The image of the navigator in his act of contemplation, caring “Terra! Terra!”–long predates how monument controversies of 2017 queried commemoration of mistreatment of indigenous Americans or native Americans within the nation’s legacy: the monument constructed Italians resident in America despite their dismissal and marginalization was conceived as a revitalization of the contributions of a people who had been dismissed, despite their own oppression.

But the logic of commemorating the man who provided a new image of the world to the entire world, hand on tiller as he guided the vessel to port after a menacing voyage, was already grotesque. The radical shift to a triumphalism of arrival ran against any controversy of commemoration of Columbus in the 1990s. The monument of Columbus that seemed destined for the Hudson celebrated a foundational figure of the nation in Tsereteli’s sculpture abandoned religious revelation for championing of a neo-imperial gesture of conquest over a New World. It seems deeply significant that Trump was eager to accept the gift of a new icon of American nationalism, of a founding settler laden with Christological symbolism as a discoverer of a New World that seemed born, like Athena, from his forceful presence, and his rather reduced head?

The politics of Columbus in almost Roman robes, as if from a different imperial imaginary, projected from Moscow, seemed removed from any familiar national iconography. If the granite Column on which Columbus stands was designed in Rome with three prows on its sides and anchors on its center, emulating the lost Augustan column that commemorated ships defeated at the Battle of Actium, the prows and hulls and anchors of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria on the column are replaced by a statue of monumental force, incarnating an abstract sense of dominion more than majesty, staring blankly ahead and anachronistically holding a rotary wheel–as blankly as an automaton–poker-faced and perhaps bluffing as he approaches a new land whose inhabitants speak no language that he knows. Was it a coincidence that the same Augustan imagery was recycled openly by Tsereteli to craft the columnar support for his statue commemorating the anniversary of creating Russia’s navy, as if to rally support for the nation, and echoing Peter the Great’s attempt to conquer Ukraine by sending trips downriver by his majestic fleet? ]

The statue echoed Rostral Columns of St. Petersburg’s port, where the Neva splits, but removing its iconography of military triumph of displaying the captured hulls and prows of ships, however improbably, to Moscow.

Neo-Augustan base of Statue to Peter the Great (1996)

Like an oddly spiritless sentinel, frozen in a position of perpetual greeting below a three-sailed mast prominently decorated with flags bearing crosses of sovereign legitimacy, and authority, was that figure not also the figure of a new sort of globalization? For the massive idol to the cult of properties did double-duty of a sort in the circulation of global power along new pathways, that may well have been less of an oddity than a premonition of the designs Russians had on leveraging Trump as an avenue to global power, and magnifying a curious cult of personality that they projected onto a retrograde image of American ideals–Roman robes recalling the equestrian statue of King George III, that removed itself from any space of political dissent, modelled after Marcus Aurelius–located in New York in 1770, only to be melted down when the Declaration of Independence was read to great public approval.

For the figure of Columbus, right hand raised as if to hail natives onshore or to raise a globe in his palm, in a performative manner illustrating the accomplishment of his arrival, would be an odd figure on the banks of the Hudson, presumably facing Manhattan, offering perches for pigeons or often seen through the fog that rises from the river in winter, a winds whipped up from the river water and blew through cut-out crosses of sails, and frigates sail up and down the river behind the navigator’s back. Would the idea be to present a new sense of globalism to residents of Trump’s towers, or to hail Trump onto a global stage? As much as a world traveller, or a voyager, the monument of this robed man of immense frame seems to have permanently arrived, revealing complete assurance but showing complete disinterest in encountering the other.

The odd feedback loops of the selection of Christopher Columbus as a conduit of power and wealth reverberated antiquated historical ideals along the feedback loops of global capital that were as opaque as one could imagine, promoting an idea of white European dominance and obsolescent technology in the guise of promoting a new form of triumphalism, and a magnification of global power that was literally, it is increasingly apparent, off the charts, and whose transactional nature has only begun to be plumbed. If another statue of Columbus gifted by Tsereteli to Seville around the cinquecentennial of 1992 contained hidden raw soft copper from Ukraine of industrial value, evading export taxes, the taxes of this Russian connection planted on the properties of real estate but squirreled through international banks suggested a new nature brazenly crossing frontiers, and circulating power and influence, all maddeningly disguised in a statue that seemed home-grown.

Beneath the pretenses of a gesture of generosity and magnanimous largesse that Trump took as a token of his own prospects in Russia, and his ability to broker international deals on a global stage, was a transatlantic importation of political baggage only barely concealed in the design of a pedestal, inscribed with a map of the Atlantic Ocean, mounted by a boat holding the robed statue of a commanding figure, right hand raised to hail his audience, the other anachronistically holding a rotary steering wheel, under three billowing sails incised with multiple sovereign crosses? What better sign of how Trump Properties had arrived on an international stage, indeed, than that the kitschy sculptor of Russian monuments recognized his project as worthy of comparison to the “discoverer” of the New World, resuscitating the inflated grandeur of the fifteenth-century Genoese explorer as a means to indicate the new globalism of Trump Properties as developers on a global scale?

The image of the single hero–here cast by Teresteli as a figure in shining gold, as if a conquistador for a new land, was explicitly the of a conqueror and a vanquisher, erasing native identity and promoting an ethnically supremacist argument of an image of settlement that erased all natives of this new world, but took the invention of the new world as a form of vangelization of a European conquistador. The deeply religious sculptor seems to have proposed an image of supremacy to Trump that the architect dutifully accepted, and saw as a set of doctrines to which he was able to subscribe and indeed to identify.

The monument of the mariner was not only of a notably conspicuous size–six feet taller than the nearby iconic Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor, where it was given in 1876 by the French Republic’s government as an icon to political government–offered a striking motif of government that promoted majesty, and openly ran against acceptance, toleration, and civil rights in unabashedly portraying Christopher Columbus in quite retrograde fashion as if a world conqueror, and magnification of Columbus as a hero of global conquest, titled Birth of a New World in ways somewhat stunningly out of tune with the historical revaluation of Columbus on the cinquecentennary of the celebration of Columbus’ documented arrival in America. Was this monumental statue glorifying the figure of Columbus as steadfast colonizer the premonition of a colonization of our representational political democracy?

The image that was an odd attempt to import animate strikingly akin to Russianonationalism than to any current in American political ideology suggested a sovereign presence that its robed figure demanded, facing the nation of the United States, rather than looking out to sea, as it was to commemorate and glorify the triumphal arrival of Columbus in the New World, even though the fifteenth-century mariner had of course never sailed up the Hudson River, or anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the United States. But the image of Columbus as a founding father–a founding dude?–was implicitly a sense of a mobile monument, whose foundational arrival in the New World was able to be celebrated anywhere in the nation that his arrival seemed to predestine.

What was the positioning of a figure of Columbus intended to convey? What did Trump understand he was being asked to accept, or to consider placing on his properties, beyond a sort of confirmation of the old Hudson Yards development being an effective upstaging of the Trump complex he had designed for the “tallest building in the world ever” that he had hoped to construct in Columbus Circle, but was blocked in 1984 from having developed so that it would meet with city building codes. The 137 story project was shelved, but called for a larger project to take its place to begin a global pantheon of Trump Properties. Outside of any sense of global boundedness, territorial markers, or national identity, the generic image of this Columbus seems have inspired its almost universal rejection as it was offered to multiple cities in America after the New York project was shelved.

What figure than a taller, bigger Columbus to shift attention to Trump’s Hudson River properties in an intentionally commandeering ostentatious manner, rising as if from chemists of the Hudson River, before New Jersey, brilliant in the morning sun?

We often date the notion of a Trump Tower Moscow to the visit of Ivanka Trump to Moscow to explore options for a luxury hotel there in 2006, to “connect” with possible business partners in the heady post-soviet period, seeking to license his family name as a brandname to luxury residences, and securing funds from a Russia’s now defunct Foreign Trade Bank, predecessor to the Russian Bank for Foreign Affairs, VEB, Vnesheconombank, which has funded other Trump building projects in 2015 and since been restructured by Vladimir Putin in 2007 has been a basis to further Putin’s multiple nationalist projects, funnel monies to allies in the Ukraine, and finance varied russonationalist projects of international scope in barely concealed fashion and financial records.

Trump’s eager acceptance of the promise to deliver a monument to the fifteenth-century navigator as a “gift of the Russian people” preceded it by at least a decade–a blatant attempt to promote Trump as a national statesman, of sorts, and a negotiator of a new landmark of colossal size, larger than the defining monument of New York Harbor from base to torch, long emblematic of American values, years before Trump changed the immigration policy. of the American government as U.S. President, in ways recognized as an emblematic of Donald Trump’s ambitions of rewriting of America’s place in the world against historical precedent–

Arnie Bermudez

–bluntly deploying an alarmingly similar symbology of ethnocentrism to his own advantage.

Indeed, before the events of September 11, a new figure of national authority seems to have been planned by Russian oligarch backers of Moscow’s major Yuri Luzhkov and others, who seem to have designed a monument to American authority that is tempting to see as a sort of script of American politics, named Birth of the New World and that seemed almost aimed at an audience of one.

The towering figure cast in Moscow would be the largest of the western hemisphere; crafted from low-grade bronze worth a purported $40 million in materials, the 600 ton statue, Trump boasted, would be a welcome gift from Russia’s government on New York’s skyline, suitable for situating off his planned West Side residential complex; he helped organize of a “great work” to arrive in New York in ways absolutely above board, and described its artist Zurab Tsereteli as unquestionably “major and legit” with a customary allowance for superlatives. And as Nimrod inspected the stone masons’ work in construction of the Tower of Babel, Trump preferred the idea of the delivery from Moscow of a prefab cast bronze for his tower, a sort of surrogate to Trump’s repeated promises of constructing the tallest building in the world.

For Donald, like a new Nimrod in the post-Trump Tower era, the statue was a means of announcing his emergence on a global stage he had been denied. Part Nimrod and part Maecenas, the sculpture was a symbol of his own grandiosity, as much as a patriotic symbol, a status of which it almost shed. Newly recognized for his true prominence by post-Soviet oligarchs who took him as an interlocutor to help situate the monolithic statuary on the Hudson up to six feet taller than the Lady Liberty, from pediment to torch–the sort of Trumpian stipulation of a detail of construction born of a deeply competitive builder obsessed with building heights on New York7s skyline, like Donald Trump, a stipulation about which he boasted. Trump publicly boasted of the prospect of delivering the bronze statue customarily downplay acknowledgement of any impact of installing the massive statue on the New York skyline he knew so well; this much was left implicit in Trump’s customary hyperbolic promotion of a building as a monument to the press as a global destination–securing the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere to complement the structure of greater height than could be found anywhere in the globe.

Fittingly, the monument to Columbus mightdisplace the image of Liberty that was emblematic of a European Atlantic alliance. In an age when the symbolism of Lady Liberty was still profound, the shock of displacement by a monument of greater size–a difference magnified by the greater proximity of the statue to be built along the banks of the Hudson River to Manhattan island–and had, in 1921, when immigration quotas set for all countries at 3% of current United States population, irrespective of refugees’ needs or circumstances, supported by Calvin Coolidge and that soon endorsed by Queens-based realtor Fred Trump, so threatened to undermine this principle Lady Liberty to lament how as a result of immigration quotas, few “people are coming to greet me on my thirty-fifth birthday!” to Jewish readers of Der grosyer Kunde.

Art Young, *No One Is Coming to Visit Me!) (1921)

The manufacture of global destinations became Donald Trump’s new-found specialization by 1990. In that year, he had of course opened the most costly and glitzy casino ever built, financed by junk bonds, aiming its monumental status to global audiences in an exercise of global kitsch. His publicists triumphantly identified it in grandiose terms as “an eighth wonder of the world”–and the level of borrowing to finance its building banked on the Trump brand to pull in $1-1.3 million/day to be solvent: the optimism and difficulties obtaining funds or securing bottom-line performance of the $1.1 billion remodel is a possible precursor for later hucksterism of promoting a US-Mexico monumental Border Wall–the new creation that seems the latest monument President Trump seems ready to build to himself, itself tantamount to a betrayal of office; the financing of the Border Wall by promises of a similar upturn in economy, or the future leveraging of Mexico to cover its costs, promising to negotiate a deal that led them to acknowledge it was in their interests to prevent migrants seeking to better their lives from crossing the southwestern border to enter the United States.

The transformation was odd, but performed by a clever sleight of hand that his Russian handlers seem to have intuited. His acceptance of the gift was a form of immensity flattery, and the promise to deliver the statue of a piece with a history of transactions to circumnavigate city building regulations and restrictions by which he hated to be hampered. Trump saw his engagement in luxury residences as a new form of monumentalism, as much as an art of building. Trump’s egoistic tastes for monuments, as much as residences, and showmanship as much as state politics, is apparent in the images not only of Trump Tower, but were the hallmark of Trump Properties. Trump’s overly optimistic estimation of Moscow as a site for Trump Properties to expand globally reveals a terrifying interchangeability of urban skylines, rooted less in place, than in the potential for building a local construction of truly international impact and transnational scope. Did he not see the forest for the trees? Or did he simply not care?

Or, did Russian operative sense that the weakness of grandiose ambitions was itself a means to alter the landscape of politics at the end of the Soviet era? The notion of orchestrating the project of building a new monument on the banks of the Hudson River was perhaps a sheer fantasy of the monumental sculptor. But it was of course designed and planed by upper oligarchs or members of the Soviet-era government, who must have imagined the import from Moscow as a point of entrance into American politics and political symbolism, even if it was presented as a sign of post-Soviet amity and comity by both Tsereteli and Luzhkov; it is tempting today to see it as a precursor of sorts of transatlantic migration from Moscow, preceding and prefiguring how troll farms of a Moscow-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), indicted by Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller, for trying from 2014 to deploy empty patriotic slogans of nationalist tenor into fake Facebook groups of dubious names–from Secure Borders (130,000 followers) to Being Patriotic (200,000 followers)–to exploit fissures within public opinion in the United States, promulgating a sort of false populism before being deactivated in 2017.

The explosive recasting Columbus as a white hero of super heroic proportions–who arrive at Manhattan properties as if at a New Plymouth Rock–was explosive. If the sculpture’s grandiosity is undercut by the disproportionate nature of the relation of head and body in the statue–seemed to squirrel a heroicizing of authoritarianism, religious hierarchy, and individual supremacy into New York City, on the shores of the Hudson River, as the sensitivity of sponsoring such continued celebration of Columbus as a hero was questioned in American politics.

Did Trump even query the motives for the suggested statue? Unlikely!

For Trump, the opportunity meshed with his established abilities of evading local restrictions and of creating monuments of ginormous size, and of Trump Properties in a global spectacle–the spectacle of the statue outweighed any sense of utilitarian value, and defining the utilitarian value or benefit of the same statue outside of its value as spectacle has led to the over thirty-five year delay in finding a home for the statuary that no one wanted to build, and so many had refused or would decline. Why build such a monument, if not for its furthering of global spectacle? For the monumental Columbus was more of a participant in the spectacle than a work of art or architecture. Rather than survey New York City from a place embedded in its urban fabric as the mariner’s statue of 1892, whose voyage to the New World was celebrated as a past achievement–

–the curiously small-headed Columbus acts as a glorification of grandiosity, removed, as was the residential development in Hudson Yards, from the city, an exercise in the sheer spectacle of monumentality, undeniably and immovably present in global space.

The anticipated transatlantic arrival of the statue–if it would have ever somehow occurred or could be imagined on Trump property–would be enabled by capital moving frictionlessly across national borders in illicit international financial transfers, money laundering, and shadowy deals to evade taxes–and even the possible transatlantic movement of precious metals sequestered inside the hollow statue that was itself forged out of export-level bronze on which no excise taxes were paid, as if to cut costs or expenses for the “gift”‘s delivery to America, or not be inspected.

The startling lack of specificity of Tsereteli’s several grandiose monuments that Tsereteli had gifted were designed in Moscow–the smaller statue of Columbus to the Spanish city of Seville or grotesque Good Defeats Evil in the United Nations Plaza in New York City–and reveal a taste for excessive statements that mirrors the generic similarities of building projects Trump imagined. The spread of an international web of Trump Towers would be balanced by the backers he could assemble for each, linking local agencies whenever possible to a web of backers, institutions, creditors, and tax abatements in a cocktail that cannot be understood as a local economy. (If the Columbus shipped to Seville was found to contain high-grade soft copper, not used for public statuary, were such statues themselves means to evade taxes?) If smaller in scale, the daunting statue of the robed mariner emerging from an egg, Birth of the New Man, dwarfed spectators in its monumentalism in 1995.

“The Birth of the New Man” erected in Seville’s Park of San Jerónimo in 1995

The authoritarian Columbus that dwarfed spectators monumentalized the navigator not in Soviet terms, but a monolithic structure of truly Ozymandian terms. It has long been striking that Trump planned luxury complexes of a level of kitsch that seemed almost interchangeable, if identifiable as pieces of a Trump empire that might be moved around a global playing board. Trump considered the Russian developments on the scale of Las Vegas, which he partnered with to built in 2002, and planned two years earlier, viewing it as a similar expansion of the Trump brand. Trump’s eagerness to pronounce Moscow distinguished by potential for a Trump tower–and “I’ve seen cities all over the world!”–in 1996 showed more interest in locating a Trump Tower to confirm the international status of his brand and buildings of global destinations, after several casino bankruptcies and a pressing need to reduce debts.

The construction of global destinations indeed obscured global politics, as Trump Properties became the determining map of global relationships in those years, when licensing the Trump Brand held the promise of an international economic comeback for properties on a financial precipice. The place of self-interest as he head of Trump Properties effectively redrew the international maps, in ways that may have made Columbus a new, and unexpected symbol of the global international capitalism that would be associated with the Trump brand. As Donald staged a financial comeback of sorts on international terrain, brand obscured nation, as Columbus became a witness not of discovery, but the instauration of a new global order, and gestured toward Trump’s own prized adeptness of navigate the waters of international finance.

As the institution of the Presidency became the basis for forging ties of Trump Properties to foreign governments across the world, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar to Kuwait to Turkey to Afghanistan to China, since Donald Trump’s assumption of the Presidency, Foreign government officials are now regular expected guests at the gala openings of Trump-owned properties in Istanbul, Ankara, Macau and Mexico, opening possibilities of approval for the expansion of Trump Properties or Trump trademarks; the overlap grows as foreign ambassadors from Russia, Romania, Malaysia and China have visited and held meetings at Trump International in Washington, DC, and even held state-level meetings at the hotel with White House officials, as Trump International to gain better access to President Trump.

In ways that foretell Trump’s desire to join as President an exclusive club of makers of monuments–including Erdogan, Putin, and Kim–the monumental statue soothed his ego. The massive six-foot tall head Trump commissioned from a speed painter for $20,000–taller than the 579″ President–significantly predates the election, but similarly reveals the fluidity between personal needs and a public charity in his name. The instrumental use of office to enrich entities that he owns fails to establish any firewall between expansive personal needs and national goods once he entered office, quickly after his inauguration.

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibliy in Washington

The figure of Columbus provided an unlikely but compelling symbol of globalism, if not an earlier age of globalization:: while I questioned the pedagogy of beginning a course on globalization with Columbus as did a colleague at California College of the Arts in 2006, the image of spanning the Atlantic, blurring of national and international power by commercial ties, was cast as a unilateral victory in the rather ominous statue Tsereteli had designed that Trump wanted to erect on the Hudson River in 1997.

For the resurrection of an imagined and imaginary Columbus, a figure whose afterlife in the United States I traced in a previous blogpost, came to be recycled and deployed to glorify the underwater global financial transactions as if there was ample precedent for their transatlantic scope.

If the statue of Columbus in Columbus Circle was ceremoniously carried from Little Italy to what was then the center of Manhattan, the colossus would be donated from the Russian government for display on a tract he owned on the Hudson. He claimed the monument’s sizable head had arrived already, and the body would be delivered from Moscow, underscoring the value of the deeply transactional tie. The apparently diminished size of the monumental bronze statue assembled in Puerto Rico by 2016 may hints a head on the smaller side for a body pontentially have been enlarged to be 600 feet taller than New York’s iconic Statue of Liberty, as if Trump or its sculptor ad imagined it would replace an iconic statue given by the French government in 1886 at the centenary of the Declaration of Independence, “Liberty Illuminating the World,” long understood as promoting an optimistic ideal of global relations.

Was Trump offered the statue by the Russian Government, who promised to cover all costs of its delivery, aspiring to be a new offshore icon of American national identity? If the below 1875 drawing raised funds for the base for the monumental personification a global ideal France hoped to gift the United States, a story of the triumph of global conquest was the subject of the statuary whose arrival Trump boasted he brokered. But did the acceptance by Trump of this rival-statue, a counter-monument of sorts that responded to the call for Liberty with an imposing image of authority, made in Moscow, suggestive an undermining of what was intended to inaugurate a landscape of liberty across the Atlantic? The image of Trump moving the statue of an authoritarian Columbus, backed by Catholic crosses of the Spanish majesties, provided a deep rewriting of history, all to eery in the aftermath of the uncovering of Russian corruption of the elections and international policy that Trump enabled in the 2016 Presidential election.

Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, Presentation Drawing of “The Statue of Liberty Illuminating the World” (1875)

The story of the never installed monument of Columbus, the fifteen-century navigator of contested centrality in stories of nationhood, promised a theater blending personal gain and global politics in truly cartoonish ways. But the possibility that Russian oligarchs seem to have extended of the “gift” of the navigator long celebrated as having “discovered” America on his personal property seemed to dignify not only Trump Properties, but increased the potential power of viewing one’s residential development on the international stage. Did the monumental gift lead Trump to imagine himself as a representative of the United States government–and perceive the transactional possibilities opened by being a figure of state–that may have attracted him to the political sector?

1. Trump hoped to erect an icon of the nation on Manhattan island without committee review was implied in his discussion of a deliverable already partly in the United States, as if to strong arm the city into accepting it as the latest addition to his conversion of the West Side Yards into a new complex of luxury housing. Trump boasted to journalists immediately after his return from Moscow, already elevating the towering monument to exceed the height of the Statue of Liberty as a personalized transaction he had gained for the nation. We don’t know how the Russian sculptor gained Trump’s attention in Moscow, but the recent addition of a monument to Peter the Great of 1,000 tons that would be erected near the Kremlin in 1997 could offered a model illustrating the monumentality of such an addition to urban space. The idea of squirreling such a statue into the public space of New York City, where it would stand beside an exclusive remove from the city and most o its populations, but dominating its skyline, stands in sharp contrast to the open monument that attracts visitors from all over the world in the New York Harbor, overseen by public parks.

Trump has a keen eye to global competition, and eagerly promoted the image of a monument of the fifteenth-century navigator of unquestioned authority and greatness–assembled over twenty years later in the Puerto Rican fishing town of Arecibo, at the outer edge edge of United States territory–promoting a hackneyed, offensive and problematic monument to the father of colonization with personal pride.

A sense of pride was understandably felt by the Georgian Zurab Tsereteli at having found a home for his monument, but Trump’s eagerness to spin adding the massive monument on newly developed properties–for which he had already received federal subsidies–as a public good suggests an exercise in his customary use of superlatives, blind to their political context. It certainly suggests the skill of Trump’s Russian handlers in reading the close ties between his vanity to his interests in transnational properties, and introducing the realtor to the King of Kitsch, client of Moscow’s powerful mayor. The transactionality of Trump’s complicated transnational expansion wasn’t clear, but the ties of transnationalism and egocentrism lie at the center of Trump’s interest in opening two Moscow luxury hotels, in ways his eagerness in promoting the monument of the navigator that the Russians thought an apt gift of transatlantic friendship.

Four years after Trump Tower opened in early 1983, a building Trump celebrated as a global destination, he began to contemplate international expansion of Trump Properties. The realtor surveyed half a dozen sites for Moscow luxury hotels in a visit to prepare for Trump Tower Moscow. The possibilities of the project kept alive through 2016 plans for a “Moscow trip” planned as late as the Republican National Convention, offer a curious starting point for his political emergence, embedded more in private gain than public service; indeed, the coaxing emails exchanged about planned working visits to Moscow with mortgage tycoons that paralleled Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin’s politics suggest a confusion of public service and private gain that was inextricably entangled, an entanglement that seems evident in the monumental proportions of this Russofied image of the fifteenth-century navigator Trump would long be inclined to proclaim commemoration of Columbus Day as fundamental and transformative in “the development of this great nation,” as he proclaimed Columbus Day an occasion of national celebration, if one only recognized in 1934 as such, at the urging of the Knights of Columbus.

If the 2019 Impeachment Hearings of 2019 have begun disentangling the threads of the truly transactional nature of the Trump presidency after the start, the pronounced lack of division between personal gain and political office seem embodied in the odyssey of an unbuilt monument, the acceptance of which as a gift from the people of Russia to the United States first put Trump in a position of national representative able to wrangle both private gain and equity from the Moscow contacts he met to expand a chain of luxury hotels. after he had invited to Moscow.

Invited to Moscow on an all-expenses trip in 1987, he examined half a dozen sites for two hotels, but balked at ceding 51% control to Intourist state agency. By 1997, things had changed, and by 2016, Trump Matryoshka dolls were on sale in Red Square.

Matryoshka Dolls in Red Square, Moscow (2016)/Preston Bailey

The discussion of Trump’s engagement in Moscow however turned to the location of a massive statuary of the “discoverer” of America, an odd gift from a former enemy state. Trump was invited to place what was to be the largest statue in the Western Hemisphere upon planned riverfront Manhattan properties, which must have seemed a great deal, perhaps in hopes to pursue a better deal on the two luxury hotels Soviets invited Trump to build. He may have accepted in an attempt to curry favor from his Russian hosts, in recognition of the transactional nature of all real estate deals, negotiations, and accords. But the massive monument seemed designed for Trump’s tastes–and resonates eerily with his famous preference for celebrating Columbus Day as a national holiday, despite the clearly hurtful resonance of Columbus in a globalized world and pluralistic democratic society.

Across the discontinuities of the post-soviet era, the tools of intelligence cultivation have suggested prominent continuiities although dynamics of global economies and globalization have shifted. However, there seems a rather remarkable continuity in the inextricability of private profit and national symbols hard-wired in Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for accepting on behalf of the United States the monumental commission of a statue of Christopher Columbus, forged in 1991 in Moscow, but as yet undelivered, what had seemed undeliverable after demurrals from several cities, from Miami to Baltimore, to loom over the Hudson River.

The unbuilt monument was perhaps best known by the inflated version of Tsereteli’s monumental head of Columbus, an anti-monument inflated as a protest in Plaza de Colón in San Juan, Puerto Rico, behind a statue of Cristóbal Colón,  constructed on occasion of the fourth centenary of 189w, showing holding a globe and a flag. The arrival of a new monument Columbus of Tseretli’s design was slated to arrive in Cataño, Puerto Rico, precipitating a local crisis in government. The arrival in Puerto Rico occurred after seven cities in the United States decided against accepting the “gift” of questionable political impact and aesthetic appeal. As the bronze monument of Columbus remained in thousands of pieces in a rum warehouse, the inflated white head poked fun at what seemed to be a failed monument on May 20th, 2006–to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus–not desired by Puerto Rico, but installed on a classical pedestal built in 1893 by Americans–in what might best be called an “anti-monument” to the practice of commemorating the navigator as a discoverer whose voyages led to the “Birth of the New World,” as Tsereteli had grandiosely entitled his as yet unbuilt sculpture.

Inflatable Head of Columbus, San Juan PR 2006

The inflatable protest art echoed what had been the most prominent marker of the unbuilt monument. It is striking for resembling the anti-monument of an inflatable protest “baby trump” blimp angrily wielding a cel phone–a dirigible that suggests how much hot air went into Trump’s style of personal self-promotion that would follow President Trump’s public appearances for some times nd was flown at Trump’s authoritarian fourth of July celebrations in Washington. The twenty-foot tall helium balloon first appeared on Trump’s state visits to London–and has itself since gone on world tour. Perhaps the global prominence and cache that Baby Trump quickly gained greater as the dirigible as a vehicle of protest, a negative anti-monument to the near global monumentalization of Trump Properties, whose urban ubiquity whose sense of assault extends beyond aesthetics.

As prominent positioning of the inflated head of the Tsereteli statue in San Juan openly mocked the monumentalism of a statue eventually assembled on Puerto Rico–far from inhabited regions, far from Plaza Colón in old San Juan–it was inflated as one of the many acts of protest that greeted news of the statue’s imminent arrival. It never circulated globally, like the Baby Trump balloon. But the inflated head contains the Donald Trump’s fingerprints ambitions, and deeply compromised search for deals lying at the heart of the story the statue’s curious provenance.

To be sure, if the inflatables of Donald Trump that have appeared increasingly in the news and on our streets have become a familiar form of public protest, it is telling that what began as international indignation at the election of so pronounced an anti-internationalist as U.S. President, feared for declaring his opposition to climate accords and climate change, would migrate into the American landscape, gaining resonance as a realization of dismay at Trump’s manipulation of a spectacle of politics, and a spectacle that dishonored and disgraced the public office he held.

Leo Murray, “Baby Trump” (2018)

For if Baby Trump was first floated in London’s skies to mark a presidential overseas visit, the revulsion at the denigration of politics to a spectacle in the Trump era, a spectacle waged on social media more than in public spaces, seemed a reclaiming of public space as an arena of political engagement. The inflation of both dirigibles aimed to puncture, to be sure, the aspirational nature of Trump’s personal self-inflation as a political figure. In ways that resembled the floats of a Columbus Day Parade, the inflatable anti-monuments gained a global currency as a touchstone of protest, rather than commemoration–a protest that registered the undue prominence Trump had acquired in a social media spectacle, evident in the reference to the mobil phone in Baby Trump’s hand. But the sense in which Trump has positioned himself at the center of spectacle by his mobile device on social media, opening up a new political landscape in so doing, was addressed in the sudden prominence of floats of Trump, as a debased parodic versions of the floats of a Columbus parade, that appeared as if spontaneously across the map. Is it worth remembering how much these inflatables began abroad, and were imported as icons of protest, because they captured so perfectly revulsion and disgust at Trump’s domination of the spectacle, recasting of news as a spectacle, and amazingly adroit denigration of political office as included in the spectacle as well? If the destruction of the Twin Towers in 9/11 became recast as spectacle–if they were not immediately understood by the attackers as a form of spectacle–we must acknowledged how perfectly positioned Trump was to reclaim a sense o spectacle, and shift it to our southern border, and how fluidly Columbus was cast as a nationalist image against migrants, and oblivious to indigeneity or indigenous inhabitants of the continent. (Did Columbus prove a facile tool on offer for a massive rewriting of history and a historical record?)

Anti-Trump protests returned the float of Trump to centrality. Floats of Trump as Chicken or Baby Trump both gained new energy as the process of political impeachment of a sitting U.S. President moved to a full vote in the House of Representatives in December, 2019–s the participation in the Impeachment vote extended to the mocking nature of the anti-monument inflatables that were brought too capture media attention at public protest, attracting much photography. and hoping to appear on the nightly news The appeal of the inflatable chicken had caught on as an icon of public protest, as if to undermine the deft use Trump had made by positioning himself at the center of a spectacle, analogous a public parade–now labeled as a larget of the impeachment process–

Oakland CA (2019)

The dirigibles’ appeal no doubt reflect shared perception of Trump’s boundless ambition for personal inflation by hot air. And by evening, the orange top of that inflatable acquired an eery glow by the side of the marquis of Oakland CA’s Grand Lake Theater–whose old marquis advertised an urgent plea to “Save Our Democracy”–which belied the carnivalesque air of the evening the night before Representatives voted, as Trump himself bitterly complained he had been offered no fair due process–and less due process than, assuming heights of disproportionate rhetorical inflation, those women killed in the Salem Witch Trials.

The glowing float seemed optimistically illuminated by a sunset in the electric lights in California, but the afterglow could not obscure fears of the extent to which Trump had become a monument in our midst who ran against the grain of our democracy..

Oakland CA/December 17, 2019

The misogynist underpinnings of Trump’s invective against impeachment as akin to a Star Chamber was cast in a kitsch historical clothing that seemed to seek to dignify it by appealing to a shared historical public memory, and position his place within it, if in unabashedly misogynist ways that desecrated the memory of those burned as witches. The rhetorical incommensurability seems to seek to protect his memory in the nation’s historical record in ways that eerily reflect the almost protective role he adopted as President to the cult of Columbus to which he had shocked many by his open defense. That outsized vanity of the canny realtor’s longstanding personal ambition was illustrated in Trump’s oversized hopes to bring a monument weighing 600 tons of $40 million worth of bronze sheets.

Trump probably accepted with enthusiasm the monumental statue as perfect for his new properties after he had seen the monument Tsereteli made of Peter the Great of equal size, itself erected in 1986 on the Moskva River to public dismay and despair, as a desecration of public space. The addition of similar statue seemed only fitting for the grandiose developments Trump then planned on property rezoned for residences, which he conceived as a counterpart to the latest iteration Trump proposed of the tallest building in the world.

If the image of authority was one that seemed only to be seen from afar in 1996, as a new world order seemed to have arrived after the end of a Cold War, did Peter the Great indeed hint at the plans for cultivating Trump as a contact, and inserting a newly modulated language and image of political authoritarianism in American political discourse and debate?

Zurab Tsereteli Peter the Great as the Founder of Russian Navy (1996)

Leave a comment

Filed under Columbus, commemoration, Donald J. Trump, national monuments, Zurab Tsereteli

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.