Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

The massive bronze figure may have announced the Russian backing of Trump as developer, prefiguring in unimaginable ways the support Russian oligarchs would lend to Trump International so long as the firm served their needs. Did the “gift” of a collosal statue Trump boasted contained equal to $40 million in sub-export grade bronze, designed by a favorite of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, reveal a cementing of ties to Moscow long before Trump became President, with no small help from Russian ties? It probably revealed the first time a foreign government offered to design a monument in United States territory since the arrival of Liberty Enlightening the World in 1893. The monumental statue projected to be the largest in the entire Western Hemisphere was less of a historical image of contact, than a heroic image of the appropriation of the New World, an odd switch in signification from the statue rising in New York harbor. A counterpart to the robed figure holding a torch celebrating enlightenment by the global advance of Republicanism the French government saw fit to mark on the quadricentennial of Columbus’ “discovery” of America, taking the navigator’s westward progress as a fit occasion to note progress toward a universal republicanism.

The authoritarian Columbus openly upstaged the earlier monument, as if its arrival marked a new globalism, in place of Republicanism.

This Columbus stood as a node in a network of money laundering, opaque international money transfers, tax-free investments, made appropriately from sub-export grade bronze to avoid export taxes, and perhaps serve as a write-off for Trump International. It may have even been a marker of the start of Trump International as a global entity. This Columbus, towering and monumental in relation to Manhattan, seemed almost able to assimilate the entire continent to his supremacy. The statue, never built next to Manhattan, but eventually erected on an island where Columbus set foot, appears an invitation to an exercise in masochism in the idiom of kitsch. The navigator seems far less situated in a credible historical context, than assimilated to a new mass culture of spectacle of colonization that compresses space in global space in its claims to global authority. The statue confirms the illusion of an independent actor in space, removed from any network of royal funding, international finance, the recycled image cast in Moscow dramatizes the hoary historical myth of imposing control over space single handedly–as if erasing all acknowledgement of human dignity or a colonial context.

Cristobal Colon in “The Birth of the New World” Monument in Arecibo (PR)/Lynmaris Chardon

The supremacism of Columbus’ gesture as he steers a ship on an historic rotary wheel with aplomb by one hand is an amalgam of global authority and the aesthetics of kitsch that begs for more detailed examination than it has received. Standing now at the edges of American territoriality in Puerto Rico, the monumental statue designed for the quincentenary of Columbus’ first voyage is a marginalized but potent marker of transatlantic exchange, reduced to a totem of global power and destiny.

The promised hope of placing the statue on Trump’s planned properties must have appealed to the magnate for its apparent absorption of the entire continent by a figure, gargantuan and larger than life as he sought more impressive buildings that would cement his status on an imaginary global stage. The real estate promoter, who seems to have taken it as a calling card for his own sense of personal majesty, a made-to-order monument that had, in fact, been shopped around already to American Presidents, would be welcomed onto the reclaimed land he had convinced the mayor to rezone as residential, over the objections of then-Assemblyman Jerry Nadler, not on a column, as the World’s Fair monument built to Columbus in Barcelona in 1888 of 60 meters, or the image of pillar on which Columbus stands in New York, cast in Rome for the Italian American community, hands on hip, seventy feet above the city looking to New York Harbor of 1892 where immigrant streams were arriving, but a monument that would be imposed on the far west side of Manhattan, towering above the Hudson River, hailing the land of which he assumed mastery by virtue of royal authority, an apparently freestanding statue imposing absolute mastery of space on observers, gesturing with magisterial obliviousness to his surroundings.

Of course, he looked as if he had stepped out of a comic strip, as much as a sailor, in keeping with the cartoon-like statues of the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tseretelli, who had accompanied Boris Yeltsin to Washington, DC to present the statue in miniature to President Bill Clinton. Unlike Clinton, Trump seems to have been very pleased at the offer of what he took as a monumental compliment on his sense of his own grandeur as a builder, a monument that he imagined might be identified with his name in the future as it dominated the skyline unlike any of the buildings he constructed or enhanced by lending his name, including Trump Tower, as a figure that, in Trump fashion, both transgressed the law and asserted it.

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Filed under Christopher Columbus, Donald J. Trump, globalization, monuments, real estate

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