Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

Such empty recycling of patriotic platitudes was of the monument during the post-Soviet era. The recycling was, to be sure, an attempt to refurbish Russia’s relation to the world, as much as evoke Kundera’s kitsch, but were even more pernicious in their symbolic emptiness and size. 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 proposed or “offered” as a monument that might befit and dignify 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 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, the sculpture he boasted Tsereteli had designed for his properties, even if they had been cast long earlier–“Zurab would like it to be at my [new] development“–suggest he had been played. In accepting the statue, Trump readily blurred 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?

Tsereteli’s Moscow Atelier

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?

13. Such brokers of elite urban preserves in isolated markets were themselves outside of states. They exploited international, more than local, markets for islands of investment as condominiums, displacing old residents in a new sort of urban colonization, in an open illustration of the conquest of space for a real estate market. The monumental statue of the open signifier of Columbus could aptly convey a majesty and global meaning outside of and beyond any mere national oversight–weighing over 6,500 tons and double the height of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer, the modern colossus suggested less Columbus’ expedition, than the global destination of a complex of 2,500 pieces of bronze and steel manufactured in Russia, cast in a foundry from the era of Catherine the Great. The new monumentality of New York real estate found a match in the huge statue, blurring 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 primarily, as he sees public office, exclusively in terms of private 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 Columbus 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.

14 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 4riumphalism 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 dramatically 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?

15. The promotion 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?

16. We often Trump Tower Moscow to the visit of Ivanka Trump 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, p6edecessor 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?

17. 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 boasted openly in 1996 about Moscow’s potential for locating a new Trump Tower–and “I’ve seen cities all over the world!”–as if Trump Tower would confirm the international status of his brand and buildings of global destinations, after 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. President Trump’s quite 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.

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?

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Filed under Christopher Columbus, commemoration, Donald J. Trump, globalization, monuments

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