Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

33. While Trump’s phallic West Side structure was never built, the statue of Columbus bears the fingerprints of a thirst for the same sort of monumental grandiosity, no doubt entangled with images of self in ways that are best left to be imagined, or more mutedly described as irrevocably impacting the skyline. Perhaps predictably, the unbuilt statue of Columbus seems designed to create an even bigger mar on the skyline, if one is to judge by the dimensions of Tsereteli’s statue of Columbus, now installed in Arecibo, near San Juan Puerto Rico, or the eerily similar 1997 statuary monument in central Moscow of Peter the Great, also weighing about 600 tons and also of bronze and copper sheets. (Only Trump could connect the dots between monuments of Columbus and Peter the Great!) The prominence of Zurab Tsereteli, who may have funneled funds to his own founding of MOMA Tiblisi–which since 2013 exhibits much of his work, was a favored sculptor of Luzhkov and a fierce nationalist who defended the annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine.

Tsereteli’s Peter the Great Statue, Commemorating the Foundation of Russian Navy (1997)

While Tsereteli assets that the above statue of Peter the Great installed in 1997 on the River Moskva to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of the Russian navy’s founding was in fact created only for the site in Moscow, the revelations of the close ties of Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov to the commission raise questions about underwater financial transactions that led Trump to announce a gift from the city of Moscow of a monumental statue of the fifteenth-century Genoese navigator, long celebrated in an annual parade in New York City, and the appearance of the strikingly similar monumental statuary of Peter the Great, who on multiple expeditions south to recapture Crimea by his navy, in the 1690s, given the difficulties of expeditions across the steppes.

The Peter the Great statue ostensibly built to commemorate his foundation of Russia’s navy–of which the nation has long been proud–has been broadly derided by Muscovites. It was a target of rage for many, who hoped to be remove it after the departure of Tsereteli’s apparent patron, Luzhkov, who had held Moscow’s mayoralty for two terms after being named mayor by Boris Yeltsin. Once Luzhkov was ousted, a chapter including numerous massive projects across Moscow by his court sculptor seemed like they might leave Russia’s capital city; public efforts to crowdsource funding to remove the unsightly monument spread quickly after Luzhkov’s term closed, in hopes to reverse the multiplication of kitsch Tsereteli sculptures in public places.

But the prominence of Peter the Great, and the status of the statue as a nationalist icon was an aptly located near the Kremlin in the Russian capital to ostentatiously affirm its new geopolitical claims. If many wondered why Moscow was an apt site–it had no port or navy, nor was it the site of Peter’s rule as tsar–the creation of the navy to transport troops to Ukraine in the eighteenth century seems to have sent a clear message on the shores of the Moskva, affirming the extent of Russian military ambitions and goals, as much as having to do with the place where it lay: it resonates with the lack of a place-specific purpose in the monumental statue of Columbus it so closely resembles, that seemed able to easily move, and be stationed in any possible site–even the landlocked Columbus, OH–or offshore in Miami Beach, however an implausible a location that seemed, or Ft. Lauderdale, where a man with multiple Moscow business interests, Sol LeBow, had offered to broker a deal for the 600-ton sculpture by ponying up $20 million to install it off the beach, and had even brought both Luzhkov and Tsereteli to Miami’s City Hall during the Columban cinquecentennary in 1992, before Trump entered the scene.

–Trump would have been able to see the colossal Peter the Great in Zurab’s studio, as a prototype of the monumentality on offer.

The planning of the colossal Columbus monument was hence oddly out of step with attitudes to the celebration and commemoration of the fifteenth-century navigator in 1992–and quite out of tempo with the revaluation of the navigator’s public image as a hero. Trump prepared in 1997 to accept the massive gift in his properties on the Hudson’s expanded shoreline to mark the quincentenary of the “discovery” of America, as protests about the commemoration of Columbus as a hero spread across the nation. Although tellingly retrograde, Trump admired the ida of identifying hiis residential complex with a somewhat fascist monument to America’s “discovery,” as a statement of grandiosity.

The announcement of he monument’s impending arrival that he “leaked” in New York to two reporters in 1997–both Mark Singer of the New Yorker and to Michael Gordon of the New York Times–opens an odd window to Russian-American exchange in the post-soviet era, and indeed to Trump’s intense engagement with currying interest of Moscow politicians as a surrogate leader for the country; if American businessmen like LeBow and Trump could provide a means of Russia extending tentacles into the United States, more than dealing with nominal Presidents, Trump’s taste for “bigger” and grander exactly fit the sort of monumentality that Russia had on offer at the time. Trump spoke in almost enraptured tones about monuments of size at the time-promoting his own properties as “among the great buildings anywhere in New York, [but] anywhere in the world” (Trump International at Columbus Circle)–would have attracted him to the statue planned to be the largest in the hemisphere, perfect to accompany a structure he hoped to be the largest in the world.

The announcement of the planned arrival would have been a last ditch effort to boost hype for the complex, and suspiciously fits into a timeline of Trump’s fiscal credibility and credit ratings, and the jiggering of the Trump Organization when Fred Trump began to loan him millions of dollars, to keep the business solvent, after The Plaza had gone bankrupt and Trump was bailed out by investors of $550 million of debt on the failing hotel. Trump’s shaky financial status involved him in a range of illegal forms of tax fraud that may have attracted the attention of Russians that led, from 1998, to a preponderance of Trump Organization projects received considerable funding from Russian oligarchs, sixty-three of whom owned $98.4 million worth of Trump luxury towers in southern Florida alone.

If Russian money was funneled into Trump Organization, the trading of Tsereteli statues the helped brand Trump City as a patriotic endeavor, as much as a desperate gambit for personal wealth, led to the bizarre investment of $40 million worth of bronze to forge a monumental figure of the navigator sailing into harbor that would also be a monument to personal vanity, and one taller than Liberty Island, as the gift he brokered from Moscow’s mayor offered a way to keep Trump afloat.

Could the statue of Columbus arriving in an antique sloop indeed also an insider’s reference to the fact that Russian monies had recently been keeping the Trump Organization afloat? For long before Donald’s progeny began boasting brazenly how “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Don Jr. boasted to Moscow investors in 2008, or in 2014 Eric Trump smugly vaunted about the solvency of the Trump Organization over golf in 2014 during the financial crisis, on account of their reliance on predominantly Russian backers–“We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.

34. The Trump Organization had already engaged in laundering of funds in real estate worked for Russians, long before the 1998, and probably before the decline of production in the Soviet Union from 1989 through the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as Russians who sat on huge cash reserves sent millions as hawala outside official financial channels; the Trump Organization benefiting from a broad desire to store cash abroad. Although the development is unique in not bearing Trump’s name, he wrested zoning rights for the landfill acquired in the 1970s after Penn Station want bankrupt transforming the undeveloped riverfront landfill as the grounds to build the first seven of sixteen towers of residential buildings on he new riverfront property, Riverside South, by hauling underwater property ashore to expand his development options for multiple skyscrapers as residences, later sold to investors to reduce his growing debt in 2004.

Trump sought to jumpstart new plans for what would be the Riverside South development by 1992 with a monumental waterfront statue of Columbus dramatically exploited the riverfront–if at a scale no city would want. As much as celebrator the quincentenary of America’s “discovery,” it seems tacitly to have celebrated the surprise of discovering many acres of new land for residential housing construction in New York. Can one imagine what the gigantic bronze statue of Columbus arriving beside Manhattan island, in a weirdly misplaced mashup of symbolic power, monumentalism, and grandiosity anachronistically piloting his caravel to the new housing development? What would it look like, rising on or off the shores of the Hudson, as if a surrogate for the arrival of Russian backers to keep the Trump Organization afloat and above water, and able to hauling housing projects out of the river to dry land?

We are only left with the reduced final vision of Trump City, a complex of buildings whose grandiosity was later downscaled to Riverside South.

Riverside South

Placing the gigantic sculptural ship beside it–or on its grounds–would seem like adding a gargantuan Mayflower, transposed to Manhattan, and treating Trump’s development as a soundstage in over the top fashion–shifting the legends of the nation for personal use alone, relocating the Genoese navigator by the fake news as if he had sailed up the Hudson–or by taking New York as a metonym for the New World, the case when the 70 foot monument was first placed in the middle of Columbus Circle. The final sculptural complex appeared to recycle the sort of generic imagery of galleons, masts, billowing sails, and pendants that were long iconically fetishized within the popular recreation of a national imaginary in a new assemblage on monumental scale–the scale that Trump would have dictated (bigger than the Statue of Liberty!), and on which the reelected mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, was more than ready to write off.

To be fair, what other sorts of iconography would a Moscow-based Georgian sculptor be able to draw upon, even one as versatile and prolific as Tsereteli, whose kitsch seemed to know no limits or frontiers? Trump had described, as early as 1987, in a now infamous passage of his bestseller, The Art of the Deal, his attraction to expanding to Moscow, and building no less than a “a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government,” in a manner that may have been his closest foray to international politics, dreamed up during the 1987 visit to Moscow when, as we know, he was wined and dined but agencies like the KGB assisted in facilitating paperwork for his visit if not in cultivating possible American agents or spies, and had been greatly impressed as a hotelier with his stay at the Lenin suite in the National Hotel near the Red Square, run by the Russia’s state-run tourism agency, Intourist.

During this period, Trump is not only likely to have developed ties to Tsereteli’s prime patron, Yuri Luzhkov; Luzhkov had since 1987 worked in Moscow’s executive council, Mosgorispolkom, and after being appointed its second mayor in June of 1992 by Boris Yeltsin–when the monument may have been already underway–and elected in 1996, and re-elected in 1999 and 2003, with a whopping 69.9% and 75% of the votes–he was capitalizing on having been granted control over all urban realty by President Yeltsin, a place from which he negotiated with multiple American hoteliers who sought to aquire properties in Moscow. (Luzhkov is a traditionalist and devout Russian Orthodox; he long has enjoyed close ties to Vladimir Putin and celebrated expansive plans for rewriting geopolitics by incorporating Crimea in Russia’s map with Tsereteli as a restoration of past national grandeur; indeed, the first conquering of Ukraine was Peter the Great 1696 attempt by Russia’s first fleet–the very event Tsereteli effectively celebrated in his statue commemorating the “foundation of the Russian navy,” without ever saying so much.

Indeed, was the placement of the statue commemorating the foundation of the navy in Moscow, near the Kremlin, rather than near a naval port, a commemoration of the longstanding ambitions Putin wanted to deliver of erasing the boundaries between Crimea and Russia? The Russian Tsar aimed to create a riverine invasion of the region, as Putin would direct one from the Kremlin. About decade later, Apple maps would bow to Russian demands to hand Crimea from Ukraine to Russia in what itannouncedweret definitive terms, by erasing national boundaries and rendering Crimea as a part of Russia: “We have received everything we wanted,” said the chair of Russia’s parliament’s security committee, “There is no going back.”)

But long before Ukraine was on Trump’s map, illicit international transfers of hoarded Russian cash had already begun to flow Trumpward from 1987. Some arrived to bail out the failing business, including funds probably from questionable legal practices of international money laundering, especially after 1990–when the Trump Organization holding 3.4 billion in debt, not including Trump’s personal liability for at least $800 million; leading the New Jersey Casino Control, if not a recognizably authoritative arbiter of fiscal solvency, to deem “Mr. Trump cannot be considered financially stable” by 1991. But Trump had planned to revive his fortunes in the city again, and stake a comeback by rezoning the old Penn tracks as his largest riverfront housing development built on landfill, as if to herald Trump’s discovery of the sole site in Manhattan where no one had ever imagined to build, let alone discover a hundred acres of undeveloped land.

For a New York realtor, this was akin to discovering a new world and influx of cash–and cash was what Trump desperately needed in the 1990s, when many things in the Trump Organization were heading south, with three filings for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the early 1990s, after he had expanded to Atlantic City casinos, including the Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, Trump Castle Hotel & Casino, and Plaza Hotel, as well as Trump Marina, restructuring hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. The statue of Christopher Columbus, notwithstanding the disfavor of the navigator as an American hero, would have been quite apt as an optimistic signal of the discovery of New Land!

I found myself recently standing in New York City’s Columbus Circle, a towering column constructed shortly after the erection of the Liberty statue in New York harbor. It was hard to imagine how the towering figure of the navigator once stood above the circle, with the Time-Warner building dominating the square, and even reducing Trump Tower to a small scale, in its shadow of steel and glass. Columbus Circle has the odd distinction of the center for measuring distance to New York, and suggests a marker of symbolic centrality. But the new statue of Columbus suggests For if the entire promotion of the new complex of residences seems an attempt to dodge financial ruin in the late 1980s, it is as striking that Donald Trump made an odd foray into political symbolism for the first time, when, for the Columbian quincentenary, he proudly boasted of plans to broker a gift from Moscow’s mayor of a monumental statue of Christopher Columbus of over $40 million of bronze, to be situated to complement the plans for residences in the old rail yard of Penn Station that the had recently wrangled as potential realty for 10,000 more residences in Manhattan.

Although public distaste for the idea of more statues to commemorate Columbus surely ran against the grain of the broad re-evaluation of Columbus’ commemoration as a foundational figure in the nation, and of European genius, the unique site for which Trump hoped to create the tallest towers in the world–greater even than the World Trade Center– was rooted in a rather petty hope to displace Lincoln Center area and rival Columbus Square, an old center of midtown traffic, through the brazen move on the part of the developer of trying to augment the value of property by linking Trump’s new property to a by now rather tired and more widely questioned version of the national founding myth.

As if deploying “America First” purely to lever his brand and the tax loopholes might gain, the statue seems now like it might have set a precedent in patriotic corruption. The grandiosity of the attempt at re-monumentalizing Columbus–Trump said that the head made for the state by the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli from over $40 million of bronze was already in America was drenched in false patriotism–“It would be my honor if we could work it out with the City of New York.” The developer limited his public statements to praising the generosity with which “The mayor of Moscow has written a letter to Rudy Giuliani stating that they would like to make a gift of this great work.”

The “great work” never was assembled in New York, but was a striking New York City’s formal acceptance of the proposed statuary certainly had the benefit of making Trump disappear from the scene, as Giuliani would accept the generous “gift” of a bronze statue. of size truly comparable to the Statue of Liberty, which conveniently would also be for the realtor’s personal benefit, although the entire event would only publicly feigned nationalism or artistic appreciation for the prospect of considerable material gain, and of staking claim to an area zoned for a marina of fishing boats in order to convert it into the grounds of a cluster of 150-story tall skyscrapers.

Trump’s touch as a realtor seems to stand in the face not only of the intentions of waterfront zoning, but defied hubris. The generosity with of the “gift” paled in comparison to the melding of a vainglorious search for grandiosity and venality of using a 600 ton monument off the shore of Manhattan as an enormous tax write-off. There was something corrupt in using the symbol of the celebration of Columbus as a tax shelter for personal gain, only designed to augment the value of the riverside property on the Hudson banks Trump had managed to rezone for 10,000 new condominium rentals, and indeed using the quincentennial celebrations as a way to attract media buzz for opening a housing project.

Trump’s grandiose claim is presented as if it was the result of ethics and judicious deliberation from which he absented himself as a witness and disinterested judge–“I am absolutely favorably disposed toward it. Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit.”–dodged the legitimacy of building of the garantuan bronze statuary that so offended the eye that it can hardly be redeemed as a massive tax write-off: built on Trump property whose value it would augment, the presentation for which Trump was so eager seems as if it was a complex quid pro quo of displaying Moscow art on the Hudson, in a bizarre joke about the 1984 Paul Mazursky film.

35. For his part, Trump publicly presented the public statuary as a gift from the mayor of Moscow to then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani omitted how it was mediated by the patriotic developer who might benefit from it and had secured its placement on the landfill as valuable realty whose value he sought to augment before he built. Tsereteli’s rather garish Columbus statue was no doubt a relatively early assertion of the transactional nature of patriotism, grandiosity, over the top indulgence, and inflation of value which long animated the Trump brand. Trump’s own transactional presidency, and a political career launched on the shoulders of America First and resurgent nationalism, but paying off in personal gain flowing from Russia to the Western Hemisphere, in a farce oddly presaging the solicitation of political assistance from Russia as a Presidential candidate, putting self before country again.

The recurrence of bizarrely similar cast of characters and personal interests enabling the transactional role of gifts, flattery, allegedly public benefit and lies recur in Impeachment Hearings where Giuliani emerges as a silent partner and an unspecified Russian donor as an enabler of which Donald is beneficiary is striking. The prospect of building a new statue to Columbus in 1992 indeed recalls the melding of personal interest and national pride, in quite spooky ways, even if the election of the President is a bit more consequential than the Columban centennial. When the proposed statue was rejected, perhaps as its bronze tonnage (6,500 tons!) was unlikely to be supported by the landfill–could piles sustain all that bronze?–more than aesthetic grounds.

No one in Russia seems to have desired to add the public statue to thier skylines, however, and would accept the massive relocation costs. Curiously, while Tsereteli had curried favor from Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov, his personal friend and patron, who secured his commissions for the War Memorial Complex on Poklonnaya Gora, Luzhkov’s successor as Moscow”s mayortried to vanquish the statue shortly after taking office in October 2010, by handing off the commemorative statuary of the Peter the Great to the renamed St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, which seemed apt, but the city refused the grotesque public statuary,–as did the port city of Arkhangelsk, Petrozavodsk (bearing Peter the Great’s name); none wanted to accept the thousand tone monument, including 600 of stainless steel, bronze, and copper, and the statue failed to be moved.

35. The striking slippage between personal interest and national myths astounds: the weighty complex of figure and naval vessels, eventually installed as The Birth of a New World on the coast of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, the year of Trump’s victory in the Presidential election was not planned, is oddly telling. The gaudy if not hideous monument had been rejected flatly first by New York, then seeking sites in an imagined itinerary of pitches for public monuments that were made successively to Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Columbus, OH; Ft Lauderdale; all meeting the same demurral. The gargantuan statuary was shipped in pieces to Mayaguez, PR, where it remained for several years, seeking a hope, as its erection was considered in Cantaño, Puerto Rico, or an uninhabited island, before its pieces were transferred to Arecibo PR from a Bacardi factory, in massive container ships to at public expenditure.

Worker Jose Rivera resting in Port of Mayaguez in the Hand of Columbus, Sept 2 2011/AP

Local opposition to the monument had become so strong the it was hoped that the massive statuary would be admired from a distance by tourists arriving on ocean liners on their way to San Juan The immense piece of public statuary faced intense local opposition, as someone, and probably not the Mayor of Moscow, assiduously pursued what was repeatedly described as a “gift” from the people of Moscow, no doubt eager to be able to write off the expenditure of millions on bronze, and whatever fee to its “legit” creator. The only record of reasons for refusal derived from Puerto Rico, where the United Confederation of Taino People objected to a location of Cantaño, lest a symbol of genocide, not a hero to be celebrated” in the nation’s public memory. Other cities must have declined lest they ruin the urban skyline.

The statue by the prominent Russian artist which some hoped could be built for the 2010 Pan-American Games was delayed began to be erected in April, 2014, when some noted the curious fact of its similarity in height to the very Statue of Liberty that was presented to America by the French government. Rather than embody a Republican ideal, however, the image of Columbus standing behind a rotary wheel was something of a metaphor for the guiding of a new ship of state, and art of far more neo-fascist tones. Was this statue by the favored sculptor of Vladimir Putin so aptly dressed for judo as an image of the strength of the state, embodied by the ex-KGB head. (The Putin statue was never publicly displayed save in Tsereteli’s Moscow Gallery, despite being offered to St. Petersburg–Tsereteli kept in his studio before disembodied hands of a sculpture strikingly similar to the Columbus statue–the mis en scene seems oddly apt, linked Putin’s dextrous grasp far outside Russian territorial bounds.)

The statue of Putin was prized by Tsereteli, who probably presented it to him at some time, before it entered his own private museum and Gallery.

The statue may have attempted to curry an audience for public statuary of a tackiness that somewhat predictably impressed Donald Trump. Tsereteli’s hope to “gift” the statue to Putin directly is a record of a startling link between Trump and Putin–recipients of free monuments by Zurab Tsereteli!–that makes one wonder who was behind them both, and indeed he presented the 9/11 commemorative sculpture, the hundred foot tall Tear Drop Memorial (2009) entitled non-specifically but globally “To The Struggle Against World Terrorism,” a cryptic allusion to Putin’s engagement in the Second Chechen War. (The monument was first offered by the sculptor to Jersey City, and while not included among the finalists selected for the old World Trade Center Plaza commemoration, was then offered by the sculptor at no cost to Bayonne NJ.

To be sure, Tsereteli’s monumental sculptural portrait of Putin dates from 2004; but Tsereteli had long exhibited the image, Healthy in Mind and Body, on the lawn of his Moscow home. Intended as a monumental statue no one wanted, despite interest of the Cossack Union of St. Petersburg for a bust of Putin as Roman emperor to celebrate absorption of Crimea, as ataman Andrei Polyakov affirmed. Putin in a Judo suit as a Jedi warrior was designed to promote the President’s vitality and physical health, in ways Putin like himself likes to be seen; St. Petersburg, never as interested in Tsereteli’s bronzes, declined to adopt the plan, leading Tsereteli kelp the model on display in a Moscow gallery and his museum, MOMA Tibli, which hosts exhibits on its first floor but is otherwise dedicated exclusively to the Georgian sculptor’s bronze statuary.

The quite kitschy work of Tsereteli may have inspired a bit of a glorifying genre of monuments to Russia’s only media star: Viktor Korbachyov presented a strartling anthropomorphic image of Putin as Russia, showing him in cerebral form in the guise of a winged bear, holding a Sturgeon. The sculpture of Russia’s president, sought to be presented to him, is titled, “Mind, Strength, and Soul,” Korbachyov argues the sturgeon is Astrakhan’s symbol, leaving open whether angelic Putin stands to eat it. But the sullen look of Putin may reflect the intensity with which this bear is fairly transparently stepping on an eagle–meant to stand collectively for “Russia’s enemies,” but a clear symbol for the United States.

36. Trump has been utterly distanced over time from the proposed Columbus statuary, which must have always seemed a bit of a boondoggle. And he showed little gratitude or responsibility to Puerto Rico for paying costs to ship the tons of ugly sculpture that seems built to his precisions. We can remember how devastated Puerto Rico was by Hurricane wind of Hurricane Dorian, whose progress Trump watched only to refused to the San Juan government he readily labeled where he targeted San Juan as the seat of “the most corrupt places on earth,” presumably second only to Ukraine. He only exaggeratedly emphasized the risks to the United States as the Category 1 hurricane was approaching Category 2, casting the deadly storm as a national threat to the United States that he hoped Puerto Rico built its buildings better to endure. (The Columbus statuary he once sought to bring to New York City endured the winds, despite its height, making it even more an object of scorn.)

According to Trump, San Juan was just unable to acknowledge “I’m the best thing in the world that ever happened to Puerto Rico!” Presumably, he was better than Columbus. But the odd instance that suggests we have been inured by Trump speaking in macros throughout his career. But it reveals a distinct lack of concern with people–“Wow! Another big storm heading to Puerto Rico! Will it ever end?”–as if he was inconvenienced by the nation that accepted the arrival of hurricanes, implying the island state had squandered $92 billion of United States taxpayers’ money. Was the purveying of a myth of imperialism casting Columbus as bearing or birthing the New World on Puerto Rican territory the imposition of the sort of myth of master-slave dynamics that Trump wanted to instill?

Or was it a realization that even fraudulent claims of nationalism sell?

The odd circulation of the Columbus statuary around the Western Hemisphere seemed oddly linked to the erection of a new statue of St. Peter as the Founder of the Russian Navy as seen in 2014 at the confluence of the Moskva River and Obvodnoy Channel since 1997 lies below the Krymsky Bridge in Moscow. While a mar on the skyline, the bronze statue slightly taller–by a measure of about fifty feet from the base of its pedestal to its peak–in comparison to New York’s Statue of Liberty, an odd if inescapable reference point. The statue of Peter the Great was built to commemorate the tercentenary of his foundation of a Russian navy and first ship-building company provides few bearings on its Moscow situation–save the ties that Tsetereli has to its commision; the statue is a target of public disdain, but the curious coincidence of its proportions is a datum bearing traces of the intense competitiveness of Trump as a builder to height and impact on the urban skyline.

Unlike the mobility of the Columbian statuary among the Atlantic cities whom it was offered as a gift, the statue is not likely to be relocated as it is rumored to have removal costs ranging anywhere between $6-10 million, and recycle the original Giuliani-mediated project. Such removal costs have has been argued to be unjustified in a city with poor infrastructure, whose inordinate gigantism has little relation to its Muscovite surroundings and raises questions of why the navy should be commemorated on the Moskva river–not St. Petersburg or maritime cities. The nationalist basis of framing public memory seems intended to be framed by the New York skyline, and bears displaced evidence of Trump’s outsized desire for a sense of supremacist gigantism, of almost Stalinist origins, in a city where monuments to socialism were removed from city squares. The antiquated magnitude of triumphal statuary was nationalism struck most Muscovites as an inexplicable in its nationalism, reeking more of corruption.

Indeed, the monumental statues belong to what might be a new genre of extra-governmental monuments. Rather than be directly sponsored by the state–or a state, in the manner that the 1886 Liberty Enlightening the World was commissioned by France, and came to stand as and indeed constitute a surrogate of the United States for so many years–

–the nature of non-governmental monuments are not readily traceable, tied to vague sponsors and groups of individuals assembled for the occasion. When Tsereteli presented the 9/11 statuary including a forty-foot stainless steel teardrop in Bayonne, NJ, the “gift was of the Russian People,” but on whose behalf it was given by President Vladimir Putin as a personal gift, as much as a gift of state. And things get complicated: Tsereteli was reported to have spent $12 million to complete the project for Bayonne Harbor; the consortium of businessmen who wanted to place The Discovery of the New World in Miami Beach collected private monies to do so; the sculptor himself “gifted” a smaller statue of Columbus to the Spanish city of Seville, but as it contained much soft copper, on which no export taxes were paid; his massively grotesque Good Defeats Evil in the United Nations Plaza in New York City modeled on St. George defeating the dragon, presented to commemorate the end oft the Cold War, echoes his gleaming monument of St. George in Tbilisi, allegedly built from ex-Soviet and American ballistic missiles; the 2005 gift of a Holocaust statue of emaciated prisoners to Jerusalem was from President Putin to Jerusalem.

The personalization or vague origins of each monument suggest the rather opaque transactions behind their exchange, as a new practice of monument erection, including the rather bizarre five meter monument to Honore de Balzac in Paris, seated in a throne of Notre Dame, surrounded by figurine-like characters from his novels but almost dwarfed by towering stacks of bound books.

For the gifting of such an array of glitzy gobal monuments, as much as reveal a state function or state honor, are themselves artifacts of a globalism. They commemorate a global recognition that their global dispersion reflects. And the global dispersal of these monuments suggest less a form of government or a mode of governmentally, so much as something akin to a cult of personality, recuperating the great tradition of soviet statuary outside of a socialist realist vein. The curious tradition of the dispersal of this non-governmental monumentality in the work of Tsereteli, the first sculptor perhaps of a new post-Cold War globalism, is plastic as it is kitsch, not site-specific, mundane, awing or awe-inspiring in its proportions and its theme, whatever its subject matter and wherever it is located. Ranging from the faux solemnity (the massive granite and steel Tear-Drop Memorial in Bayonne, NJ), to the terrible (the emaciated family in Jerusalem), the archaic (St George Slays the Dragon at UN Plaza), to the monumental triumph over space that elides all native inhabitants (Columbus), the work is at base anti-humanistic.

The Birth of the New World in Arecibo, its colossal structural support wrapped in a map, is a record of space that almost drowns humanity, enclosing the sense of its own space with the triumph of the arrival of a monumental Columbus, utterly abstracted from his own surroundings, and in fact able to be transposed, it Tsereteli’s mind, from Baltimore to New York to Ft. Lauderdale to Miami Beach to San Juan to Arecibo: one of the alternate sites considered to locate the often resituated sculpture was Desecheo, the outer western end of the United States territory, an island inhabited only by desparate migrants trying to evade apprehension by United States Border Patrol: the idea of the errant migrant meeting the massive statue seems somehow apt. The global array of Zurab Tsereteli’s colossal statues illustrate a dispersion of Russian presence in the globe in relentlessly massive scale around the world.

37. What is this new custom of non-governmental monumentality? The rumors circulated in Pravda Report that the sculptor Tsetereli erected the statue commemorating the tercentennial of the ship-buildingcompany in 1693 in 1997 which used the body and anachronistic image of steering behind a wheel he had forged to commemorate Columbus; the subsequent arrival of components of the new Tsereteli statue of the Genoese navigator in a container ship in 2,500 pieces requiring 110,000 hours to assemble reached the almost identical height of 350 feet–forty-five greater than the monument to Lady Liberty existing in New York Harbor–and also seems contextually to refer to the Manhattan skyline, and similarly anachronistic in situating the fifteenth-century Genoese navigator, as the seventeenth century Tsar, behind a rotary steering wheel transposed to an old galley, as if oblivious to maritime technologies or the tools of travel employed by each, and use the same sort of slender-masted caravel to suggest a generic sort of ship.

Trump represented non-governmental monumentality, having already expanded upon a series of monument-like hotels in his name, whose prominence in urban skylines across the world might indeed be mapped as something of a negative of Tseretli’s collective corpus of monumental statuary. The grandiose cast ostensibly of Columbus, intended for New York, The Birth of a New World

–seems a rather opaque monument of sheer grandiosity, which almost hides its message in its utter triumphalist intent.

The similarities of this monument to the commmemoration of the founding of Russia’s navy by Peter I is undeniable.

Staue of the Founder of the Russian Navy on Moskva River

The surreal nature of the rigged sails of the ship in which Peter I stands, its sails either waiting to be let down, or, more likely, raised as the boat approached shore, dwarfs all buildings near the banks of the Moskva–where it would scarcely have ever be expected to disembark, as Moscow was never a port city, even if the Moscow-Volga canal is known as the “Port of Five Seas.” The towering statue, voted one of the ten ugliest buildings as it so inordinately dominates the surrounding skyline, utterly out of synch with and indeed disruptive of local residential housing, is also anonymous in many ways, an imposing reminder of national strength.

Was this gift to the Moscow skyline, long suspected to be the product of urban corruption and favoritism, the outsized fruit of Trump’s ego? The statuary bears suspicious formal similarity to the statue installed off the island of Puerto Rico by 2016, lying just west of San Juan: unlike many of the island residences, the 350 foot tower not only weathered Hurricane Dorian, but is the tallest statue in the hemisphere, the very sort of statistic that someone like Trump treasures, and is twice the size of Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer. (Conquest, as much a redemption, is its theme, if the historical Columbus saw himself as both a redeemer and extending sovereign bounds.). Columbus seems a figure of globalism, however, whose massive statuary is the surface marker of deep financial flows of hidden currents of international finance, as much as a patriotic feint.

The figure of Peter the Great greeting Moscow behind the wheel of a frigate, bearing a scroll in one hand, was more than stunningly similar to the Tseterelli statuary of Columbus erected in Puerto Rico. It raised questions about the image off the shore of Arecibo and the installation fees of $12 million that the public art cost–did Trump gain a tax write-off for the statue that arrived on the island that is a United States territory? Why was the Arecibo statue just three feet over the height of the Statue of Liberty in New York, as if its design was made with the Statue of Liberty in mind, animated by the same small stakes sort of intense competition that Trump seems to be most energized and animated by? Or did the notion of a “non-governmental monumentality” not appeal to Trump, impressed by the scale erecting such a statue could be pulled off?

39. It seemed that the monstrosity palmed off on Arecibo, PR, The Birth of a New World, weighing in at 6,500 tons, was almost a sadistic infection of work of public art. Although opposition from the United Confederation of Taino People in Cantaño, Puerto Rico, vociferously opposed the installation of the megasculpture, as “Columbus was a symbol of genocide, not a hero to be celebrated” by monumental statuary in the nation’s public memory.” Was there a sadistic at inflicting an image of rebirth on Puerto Ricans glorifying conquest by Columbus, as an iconic statement of western technological superiority and obeisance to sovereignty in a geopolitical theater that was dictated from Washington?

The odd dissonance between the head of the figure of Columbus in Arecibo from its body may well suggest that the body and head were fused in the New World–the head of the navigator that Trump claimed to have already arrived in New York in 1992 seems craft separately from its body, as if the head somehow make its way from Tseratelli’s workshop to an island poopulated largely with poor fishermen? The pieces of bronze shaped a statue strikingly similar to the monument showing Peter the Great, jauntily posed behind the wheel of a frigate on the very edge of American territoriality, regularly voyaged past by the U.S. Navy without dropping anchor, during the recent Hurricane, an island where Columbus once did make landfall.

Can the voyage of a statue taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty, which the planned monument seemed to rival, be mapped as an international traffic in symbols? Were rumors in Moscow that the statue Luzhkov commissioned in the 1990’s showing Tsar Peter is standing behind a frigate’s fictional steering wheel of a frigate, without crosses punched its sails, but rather gathered up on masts, as he clutched a golden scroll, had indeed recycled the original of the statue Trump had vaingloriously announced was in the works as a gift from the mayor of Moscow that would be situated conveniently on properties he promoted.

Leave a comment

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

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.