Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

What is perhaps less well examined in most accounts of the possibility of importing a statue of Columbus cast in Russia in bronze that weighed 500-600 tons was the transnational nature of Tseretelli’s sculpture. To be sure, the transnationalism of the public statues constructed by the Georgian former cartoonist turned state artist of Moscow’s Mayor had not yet spread past his native Tiblisi and Moscow to Paris, Brockport NY (1979), New York (1990), London (1990), Jerusalem (2005), Puerto Rico and Spain (Seville; 1995), although they were already prominently situated in European states and Tiblisi. But the transnational character of Tseretelli as a sculptor presented a crucial aspect of the statuary, massive pieces of bronze and copper that were shipped across boundaries by Tseretelli: truly cartoonish sculptures, that were a favorite of elites from the soviet era through the post-soviet society, combining claims to innocence and evoking historical glory, in ways that made them nationalist images that migrated across boundaries, and mastery, as the image of Columbus placed the navigator alone, in a ship, as if possessing full master of the map of The Atlantic that unfurled across its base, standing at its prow with a steering wheel–to be sure, an anachronistic addition–reinforcing his individual control over the itinerary of an actually quite artfully re-imagined transatlantic voyage as one of utter certainty.

In other words: Columbus is memorialized outside of any network of informational exchange or indeed of support networks as a team of navigators or native informants, on whom most explorers depended, but relied on his own knowledge as a Renaissance man, embodied in his map.

More than a serendipitous gift for the quincentenary or a leap of faith in Russian backers, the planned monument was hoped to help promote super and super super luxury condominiums, perhaps a security deposit of $40 million in bronze lying in plain sight at Trump’s West Side Yards development, a site the realtor had long guarded asa site of building, and coincidentally where, according to Donald, ” Zurab would like it to be.” The hoped situation of Columbus on the Hudson, in a public statuary monument taller than the Statue of Liberty, pedestal, aligned with the seventy-five acre tract to be rezoned Riverside South, measuring six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, or one Donald Trump (6’1/2″) taller.

Trump Celebrates his Exclusive Club at Mar-a-Lago 19977/Max Vadukul

The by now terribly familiar vainglorious boasting of a thirty-nine year old would lead, as plans for transforming the hundred acres led to the announcement of a new statue that was striking as an early feint of his patriotism. The New York Times effusively if ironically allowed that the jury was out in the aim to “be a builder like hero of Ayn Rand’s novel” was either a bluff or a “bid for immortality” that would make the mark of the Trumps in the immensity of the New York skyline in particularly memorable ways. The plans for the hundred acre site were trumpeted in a hopeful press release from the master of theatrical gestures as “the master builder’s grandest plan yet,” perhaps upstaged since by relentless abilities of character assassination unprecedented since Joseph McCarthy.

But the odd cast of characters–a Russian mayor and oligarch, friend and patron of the Georgian sculptor; the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, Soviet era President of the Moscow Academy of Arts whose marriage tied him to the Byzantine Komnenos dynasty, who would make and design monuments including one to Princess Diana and, famously, a life-size sculpture of Vladimir Putin in a judo kimono. In Trump’s telling, Trump appears but the facilitator or silent partner; but would be the greatest beneficiary of the media attention that someone seems to have convinced him that the delivery of an immense if not gargantuan Columbus, an almost Mammon-like idol of near-cultic significance, melded nicely with the urban skyline. And when in 2017, Trump as U.S. President weighed in on the commemoration of Columbus in no uncertain terms at the Heritage Club in Washington, blasting the decision to remove Columbian monuments not only as politically correct decisions to question the brutality of idigenous peoples, he attacked the removal of monuments in the nation he led, asserting that”We believe we should preserve our history, not tear it down,” dismissing the removal of Columbus monuments as a destructive more than constructive process. “What’s next?” he wrapped up his remarks, in ominous tones. “Has to be stopped, it’s heritage.”

The placement of the Columbus statue on the Hudson was refused by New York in 1997, but Tsereteli’s global success was on the horizon in Perestroika, and in the replacement of a range of Lenin statuary across Russia–and in Tiblisi–with a new iconography of power, often drawing from myth, mythistory, and over-the-top folk symbols of Jungian nature.

32. Trump didn’t mention that a monument to Columbus had been a bit of a pet project that he had engaged with Moscow’s mayor and some other Russians back in 1997, with the assistance of his future henchman Rudy Giuliani. Trump had then told Michael Gordon of the New York Times, boasting of the monument “it’s already been made” and that “it would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York,” describing how he obtained approval from the newly elected Mayor Rudy Giuliani for installing the 660 tons of bronze he claimed to be worth $40 million where Zurab Tsereteli wanted it on the Hudson development site, where stalled construction for a set of residential towers were getting underway. The monument to kitsch.

The megalomaniac sculptor Tsereteli fashions himself as a builder for new global emperors, and invested Columbus in a roman toga, as he would Peter the Great, in the colossal monument that finally appeared in Puerto Rico near San Juan off the shore in Arecibo, after the megalomaniac sculptor had shopped it around the globe.

Sculptor Zurab Tsereteli Displays his planned monument in 1999

It is in some senseapt the monument had been relocated to Puerto Rico, on whose shores the historical Columbus did indeed actually set foot, and indeed renamed the island known by Taíno inhabitants as Borikén (Spanish Boriquen), “land of the brave lord,” after Saint John the Baptist (San Juan). Columbus had never arrived in the Hudson River, of course, but the mythos of patriotism that led to the commemoration of Columbus in San Juan in 1893 would be magnified in the Tsereteli statue of 2016 in Arecibo, whose outsized figure visible to luxury liners arriving San Juan.

Installed Columbus Monument in Puerto Rico (2016)

No mock-up exists of the planned integration of the colossal Columbus first planned for the rezoned landfill. The epically proportioned building of monumental status would be mirrored by the 600 ton sculptural statuary of Columbus, in a ship effectively sailing up the Hudson River, to rival in size the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. It is less well-known is how the effects of Donald Trump’s massive ego created ripples across the globe as similar statues of heroic navigators by the same Russian sculptor from Moscow whose work Trump had engaged that sought new homes for a massive amount of bronze tonnage. As pieces of Tsereteli’s monumental sculptures were shuffled across the globe for potential assembly for possible personal gain, it is a bit ironic if tragic that the only work by the ever-ambitious Tsereteli to arrive in New York was a commemoration of the destruction of 9/11, a Tear, that arrived with great ceremony and fanfare at the old site of the World Trade Center.

Can the global migration of Tsereteli’s reveal more about the ties of Trump to Russian patrons who were so eager to “gift” the colossus to their friend, who had planned to build a Trump Tower Moscow? Did the monument reflect not only the grandiosity of Tsereteli, on whom it is often blamed, but can we detect fingerprints of the current U.S. President on its curious monumental size of the navigator in the caravel just larger than the Statue of Liberty? Donald Trump was less interested in architectural practicality or servicibility than the spectacle of architecture, or in the place of architecture in a global spectacle.

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

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