The planned statuary of the iconic explorer long cast as a national hero panders to such tropes of heroism and imperial grandeur they are rarely examined as a precedent for Trump’s extension of promoting hotels and buildings to an international currency of indebtedness, codependence, and obligation–and linking of his hotel chain into an international web of realty development. Raising questions of the relation between the national and international in a global market, the promised statue stakes problems of reconciling personal interests with public interests, moreover, that would be rehearsed throughout the Trump Presidency. The planned statue reached back to an almost mythical vocabulary of spectacular architecture, expansive profligate building, and physical testaments to wealth, as if to create a new age of global monumentalism, rooted less in memory or place than by substituting a figure of triumphant majesty removed from any specific context or site of memory.
The erasure of place in this sort of monumentality seems to have migrated from the post-Soviet era, and growth of a new statuary in Moscow, that replaced the formerly dense statuary of Marx, eighty statues of Lenin, and Soviet leaders were removed from squares, pillars, and plazas–and over 5,500 from the Ukraine–as sixty-six foot tall bronze authoritarian statues eagerly moved to halls for monuments like Moscow’s Fallen Monument Park–or provided a vast reserve of bronze.
The a massive removal or erasure of memory left striking urban lacunae; –if they were not melted down and resmelted for other monuments.
In this context of an exist of monuments, the Columbus statue exported a post-Soviet idiom of public authoritarian statuary to the shores of the United States Trump seemed eager to sponsor. The bronze navigator, of greater size than the sixty-foot statues of Lenin, is less a marker not of international waters, but of conquest. Its placement would have glorified Trump’s coversion of the landfill area of the old rail yards that once served ships arriving on the city piers to a boondoggle of capital. As multiple cities refused its donation as a gift, the never daunted Tsereteli only mused that grumbling had met the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Liberty statue itself at the time of their construction.
The configuration of capital that the Columbus statue embodied mirrored the magic trick by which Trump had reclassified landfill of the West Side Yards as residential for a planned magnet for international investment–greeting America or hailing Manhattan, a robed eminence of curiously reduced head, body made more monumental than the skiff he is on could accommodate, hardly a Vitruvian man, of 6,500 tons of possibly recycled bronze, removed from the map, and from the violence of the narratives of enslavement, military conquest, confrontation, and commercial settlement, that were consequences of the Columbian project?
Heralding the birth of a New World, the statue reveals an odd erasure of temporalities in its evocation of a mythistokry that had been shaped in Russia to replace the monumetnalism of a socialist past, but is even an emptier icon of grandeur. How to explain the transatlantic transfer of so many tons of bronze, originally hoped to be a gift to Washington D.C. in 1992, marking the celebration of the quincentenary of Columbus Day–or the appeal of the statuary to the developer Donald Trump? The question is perhaps poorly posed, but the nexus of interests in assuming a new global authority that was shared by Trump, post-Soviet oligarchs, and real estate barons is oddly compelling and demands resolution.
The plans for the arrival of a Moscow-forged monument to Columbus would also mark Trump’s entry in a shady international network in the late 1990s resulted in the curious migration of the heroic statuary pastiche of the fifteenth-century navigator staking royal claims to transatlantic property–renaming Caribbean islands after his nation and Christian pantheon of saints. In mapping the islands as San Salvador, formerly Guanahani, Hispaniola–currently Haiti and Dominican Republic–Juan de la Cosa, a cartographer-navigator who owned the Santa Maria, participated in the current rage of renaming, drawing boundaries around, and mapping ties of power over expanse–
–enumerated the individual islands where flags set by Columbus during his first voyage, of which de la Cosa could provide personal testimony as the owner of one of the three caravels that made landfall in the New World.
The cartographer was taking part in a broad collective effort of renaming, bounding, and explaining empire across a terrestrial expanse that could barely be conceived even if it could be measured, staking claims to those magnified Carribbean islands where Columbus did in fact make landfall. The map so laboriously made by de la Cosa foregrounded the islands that were multicolored to resemble the genre of isolari of the Aegean, but planted the Spanish flag on a renamed Hispaniola, confirming the voyage had successfully renamed the islands, placing them below Spanish flags.
The arrival of the navigator echoed modern statues, as well as the poesis of early modern geography of naming, bounding, and declaring sovereignty over untold expanses rendered open to subjugation and control: the images of the region in the Letters of Columbus, an early best-seller, promoted the possessions of the monarch in the New World as a direct appropriation in the name of the Spanish monarchs, promising an abundance of spices, metals, and indeed the inhabitants themselves–and their souls as potential sites of conversion.
4. Was placing the statue of Columbus off of Manhattan a gesture to Columbus’ renaming New World properties for Spain’s sovereign as if to channel a motif of the promotion of real estate development? The inclusion of the crosses on Columbus’ sails in Tsereteli’s monument echoed the early woodcut. And the arrival of Columbus in Manhattan seemed to announce the inauguration of a new era of transatlantic exchange between Russia and the United States; forgetting the lesson of Ozymandias, perhaps, recuperating a shared icon of imperial authority seemed in this context to promote the legendary status of self-made man as an icon that the self-centered realtor would over-eagerly identify.
Trump would identify his towers and his self as a colossus that he no doubt narcissistically felt would embody his own grandeur as much as the grandeur of his buildings. For the figure of Columbus, as much as a discoverer of new lands and America, or an agent of the king, would serve to promote the developmen to international investment sufficiently exclusive for foreign royalty–Trump recently redecorated of his private triplex penthouse in Trump Tower, were he lived since 1983, in faux Louis XIV decor, replacing famed designer Alberto Donghia’s original understated decoration with help from a casino designer who jazzed the slightly austere modernism up with gilded boiserie, a bronze Eros and Psyche, rococo ceiling frescoes of Apollo, crystal chandeliers and a diamond and gold encrusted front-door and gold-leaf furniture–to join Donghia’s original concession of a gold leaf ceiling in an opulent decor.
When Donghia tragically died from AIDS in 1985, the designer thankfully never saw the obliteration of his concept with faux rococo renovations. But they captured the standard a Trump building aimed to offer. By 1996, when Trump had taken to promote casinos in Atlantic City, Trump quite grandiosely described the impending arrival of the monument as a “gift from the Russian people” whose delivery he had arranged at no expense, in quasi-regal terms, and in an interview with the New Yorker, promoted the arrival of the massive cultic statue forged in Moscow as something New York’s mayor would sign off on, and we should wait for. The “great work” of the prominent artist Zurab–the “man is major and legit”–that would soon arrive to grace–or dominate–the New York City skyline, rhapsodizing about the monument’s arrival without describing how it would be erected, signed off on, or even came to be proposed. Trump acted as if his interviewer expected nothing thirteen years after Trump Tower than a more massive next big Trump thing.
Was the sense that if the city had tolerated Trump Tower, it would be ready to accept a towering image of the navigator, medals draped around his neck, and royal crosses prominently blazoned on the sails of his ship?
Brokering the gargantuan bronze statue–what seemed a booby prize of international negotiation–as the fruit of newly acquired expertise in gaining capital from foreign markets. The regal sails that billowed behind the gargantuan–and historically grotesque–fifteenth century navigator who seemed to greet Manhattan island impassively from afar, foregrounded a cross on the medal around his neck that Donald probably thought was a “T” for Trump, but echoed the very sails of the caravels in Columbus’ Letters,–
–to judge by the statue as it was assembled in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, over twenty years later.
Trump then rather gleefully promoted the statue’s arrival from Moscow to journalists as a trophy of his own rebounding international currency, as if it was a confirmation of his new arrival in the class of a global real estate promoter. He energetically did so only after returning from his second trip to Moscow, and first visit to post-Soviet Russia, which was first being integrated into the free markets that Trump then seemed to believe he emblematized. And in Russia, Trump had inserted himself within a local kleptocracy of real estate grabs in hopes to find financing for his overseas projects in projects he had surveyed. Is the monument a celebration of Trump’s own image of his own grandiosity, or is the attempt to broker a “gift” from the “Russian people” a precedent for the false populism of the current President? In 1997, it was another case of Trump being Trump, his aspirations to grandiosity reaching new heights.
For although monuments are usually created by states, as ways to come to terms with memories or preserve them, Trump boasted he accepted the nearly three hundred foot statue from the Russian people, praising it as “six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty,” as if that was sufficient grounds to accept the already built bronze monument. He must have done so for personal gain, but the offer of a monument of national symbolism was not described in terms of American nationalism, but as something that would appeal to the Italian-Ameircan mayor Rudy Giuliani who had offered Trump multiple concessions for rezoning; it was undoubtedly part of a transaction that mutually beneficial, either a massive tax write-off, a sign of his own grandiosity, and affirming his own personal gain. The national associations that the Russians assumed were implicit when they had approached U.S. Presidents–George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton–with the statue, were all but absent.
Is it even possible that the massive bronze statue was even redesigned for Trump, to meet his desires? Perhaps the diminished size head hinted Tseretelli had cast a still larger body to make a monument meeting a demand the statue be taller than “Liberty Enlightening the World”–a “new colossus” itself, ut one that was famously associated with openly political values, when it was given by the French Republic to the American state as a token of political solidarity, admiration, and a defense of openly republican ideals that the French believed would soon be dominant in the world. If “Liberty Enlightening the World” was to cast republicanism across the globe, in ways that emulate the contemporary International Map of the World whose optimistic internationalism was promoted by French geographers, did hopes to erect the massive statue of Columbus celebrate underground circulation of global capital, offshore investment, and untaxed wealth that defined the post-Soviet era?
5. The Columbus statue makes a tacit reference to the Statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” unveiled on October 28, 1886, which at the time towered far above the business buildings of New York, almost 306 feet over sea-level, casting a shadow and a symbolic tower over the aspiring tower of Manhattan island. Presented on July 4, 1884, the woman bearing the torch that has become an icon of New York affirmed the transnational project of the American Revolution as “a foundation for erecting temples of liberty in every part of the earth;” sculptor Auguste Bartholdi wanted to be as “grand as the idea which it embodied,” as a triumphal statement of republicanism. Supported by champions of grandiosity of the day such as Theodore Roosevelt, it affirmed transnational republicanism, mapping a universality that the statue of Columbus, Birth of the New World, undercuts not only in its height, but by affirming the centrality and absolutism of a vision of currents of international capital and finance that underlay the arrival of that statue, which Trump proudly announced would be transported to lands he had developed for residences, not on an island in the harbor, but on landfill. If Liberty watched approaching ships from Beddoes Island as a sentinel of the guarding of laws and freedom within the new lands, into the waters that would be welcoming of immigrants, as Emma Lazarus later affirmed, the monitory statue of royalist values that simultaneously transfixed and repelled anonymous observers it did not deign to address seemed an announcement of Manifest Destiny than affirming any values at all–the statue was not holding a tablet of laws, or raising a torch of enlightenment, but a white man surrounded by royal symbolism, not part of the geography, but perched on a small skiff but rooted in underground, invisible currents of finance that had raised the once underwater lands on which it stood.
If Liberty stands atop a broken chain, evoking the defense of liberty in the recent national trauma of the U.S. Civil War, and embodying justice, the figure of an anachronistic Columbus embodied not an icon of national identity of values to be honored across the globe–progress; determination; victory over oppression–affirming the nation as still providing an “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty,” in Thomas Paine’s words–that U.S. President Grover Cleveland heralded as an unprecedented symbol of the “open gates” of the nation.
Whereas President Cleveland recognized the statue as embodying a yearning for Liberty after the defeat of the “monstrous injustice” of enslavement, he celebrated the statue as framing desire for liberty in international terms. For all the heady emotion of the opening of a post-Soviet world, the monumental statue rather marked the circulation of unregulated goods and shady international finance. The arrival of the monumental statuary of Columbus was an act of political amnesia, celebrated something like a foundational claim to power destined for private property, cleansing the remembrance of colonization as a victory in a flattening of historical perspective that borders on the classic definition of kitsch–what Milan Kundera described as the “absolute denial of shit” and blanketing of the experience of colonization or the grotesque nature of nationalist claims, in a “mass art” that seems to degrade the meaning of the nation, debasing abilities of remembrance.
Public monuments are traditionally conceived as planned by a state, city, or community,–sanctioning a common remembrance or celebration. The oddly hybrid resurgence of the navigator as a national symbol in this monument, a figure not of the nation, but of a global market for monuments that was erased from any attachment to place, seems emptied of any language of remembrance, displacing “kitsch” from what the Nazi government had once defined as a demeaning of the national symbol from the purity of how it created an “inner relationship” of the symbol and art object, but rather by giving it new currency by loosening the figure of the navigator it cast as a totalitarian figure of immense weight–six thousand tons!–and size from any symbolic associations of nationhood, but suggesting a muscular dominion by a commanding prominence that might migrate around the globe by pathways of global capital.
In contrast to the creation of monuments that might symbolize a nation, Trump’s position as receiver of a statue post-soviet governments ld him to entertain a gift of state that seemed to him a great deal for his brand and his property,–as a massive promotional device and visiting card, a sign of Trump making an even greater name for himself and his family on the New York City skyline. If in 1997 he had fulsomely promoted properties he had developed in New York’s Columbus Circle as being “One of the great buildings anywhere in New York, anywhere in the world,” one can almost imagine the interchange with Russian oligarchs where Trump noted the magnificence of the old Gulf+Western building he had promoted, by adding his name to it, leading to Luzhkov’s ears to prick up at the mention of Columbus, ready to suggest he had the perfect statue to adorn it, and Trump upping the ante by offering to place it at his newest, and even more majestic, property on the Hudson River, where the navigator could be situated off Manhattan Island–a place where he had never sailed. Tsereteli, Luzhkov, and Trump all found a common coinage: they all trafficked in mythistory, more than historical accuracy, wedded closely to the promotion of awing grandiosity.
Rather than offer a statue affirming shared values and common memories of classical ideals of freedom, liberties and laws, a republican heritage that the French viewed as their own, begun in their revolution, but affirmed in the American Revolution, despite their Napoleonic interludes of retrograde royalty, there were no real collective memories affirmed in the figure of Columbus, or no forward-facing future of optimism that this man with an upraised hand, as if more of an outfielder in a toga than an affirmation of Roman republican values. Far more than present an affirmation of freedom, the Columbus was a god-like Augustus or Helios, declaring the absolute domain across political divides, a token of the friendship of folks who were engaged in a sustained trade of importing statues that were Beryozka dolls of a future totalitarianism that looked quite grim, rather than an appeal to the rebirth of ancient values. The image of the male mariner who was taller than the Statue of Liberty oddly diminished the ideals of the Statue of Liberty by recasting its universalism and universal values in an uplift that seems to demand consent removed from politics, but impressing viewers by its size: would the monument with such a surprisingly small head be in fact raising the name of the Trump brand, redounding to the glory of the buildings that Trump had so carefully wrangled from the city by buying lands that he had recast as residential, at huge personal gain? The odd itinerary of Columbus retraversing the seas, not from Spain to the New World, but from Moscow, seemed only to signify the opening of the Russian market.
The peculiar re-use of aesthetics of post-political Augustan neo-imperial statue suggest a promotion of a unique type of historical amnesia around the figure of Columbus, removed from any sense of encounter with native peoples, and indeed from commerce with a New World, as a civilizing figure triumphant over the land, as if to preserve his salvific identity as a robed emissary of the most Christian King, greeting the New World as emissary of the monarch, removed form any colonial context. The almost cultic nature of this statue demanding deference seems an alienation of the observer but a proclamation of an age of spectacle–
–akin to authoritarian images in North Korea,
or, indeed, the monumental statues of Saddam Hussein that had been toppled in Iran’s longstanding mortal enemy, Iraq.
Is not its kitsch was almost an intentional debasement of the nation it seemed to celebrate, promoting values inherently foreign to democracy?
The bronze colossus is akin to the still larger monument in bronze that Narenda Modi built at a cost of $400 million larger bronze as Governor of Gujarat, as if to project his leadership of all India, in 2013, where he would oversee a 1992 pogrom that killed thousands of Muslims and rendered homeless countless more, and destroyed the Babri Masjid Mosque, in an openly violent attempts to erase muslim presence in Gujurat. The “Statue of Unity” over twice times as tall as New York’s Statue of Liberty in Gujurat soon become an icon for Hindu nationalists, showing Patel in traditional dhoti towering above the Narmada River–unveiled by Modi in 2018 after assuming the office of Prime Minister.
Indeed, if Pankaj Mishra seemed to jest in the title to his 2020 opinion piece, “Donald Trump Is Going to India to Find Himself,” his discussion of India as Trump’s true spiritual home of fraternal spirit in a country that was in the course of “cravenly surrendering its traditions of law and decency before a perpetually inflamed and ham-handed autocrat,” who openly used monumental statues to affirm his own claims to power by an image of the autocratic pursuit of wealth and power, enshrined in the politics of hatred of Hindu Supremacy, that is more than an eery echo of the White Supremacy that has animated the Trump political brand, incarnated in an architecture of excess that knows no bounds.
For the deeply undemocratic and openly autocratic nature of such statuary of public spectacle, far from learning the lessons of Ozymandias, seem to proclaim sovereign rule by their immensity alone, and assert their majesty by openly offering exclusionary more than inclusionary models of national identity and nationhood to do so.
This was a false memory of nationhood, indeed, and an art of democratic forgetting, an exorcism of Republicanism, perhaps, a statement of grandiosity that did far more in alienating the country from observers, and in daunting them with an image of non-state powers, the accumulation of massive wealth, accumulated not for the public good but by evading taxes, federal oversight, and appealing to a man that worked and affirmed his own centrality in the world far outside of the state.
6. Rather than recuperating values of shared memories, was the statue not a mark of the purification of forgetting, and restoring of a past authoritarian declaration of supremacy over the land? Was the statue an act of historical amnesia that somehow made its mark? Stripping Columbus of historical context save stock accoutrements, elevating his commanding presence as a symbol of imperial governance, the statue seemed to seek to upstage the Statue of Liberty and skyline of indeed iconic Manhattan in ways that would have led Trump to see himself as altering the city as a monolithic structure befitting narcissistic tastes. As if ignoring the lessons of Ozymandias, the statue and Millennium Towers to be erected on the Hudson banks would aim to redefine that Trump would often trace–as in the recently-auctioned “original artwork” penned on Capuchin Food Pantries stationery, of empyrean skyscrapers, an image that oddly suggests just how engraved the city skyline was on Trump’s mind, silhouettes of the Chrysler building and Empire State, behemoths standin as isurrogates for the city at large.
The subject was a common theme for Trump to fall back on in his sketches, in earlier years, prominently placing Trump Tower among its pinnacles, exceeding its actual size, indulging his architectural fantasy by betraying clear designs to leave his imprint from the Hudson River–in an image auctioneeers billed as “one of the more attractive, well-executed versions we have seen, and the only one we can recall which is dated.”
Indeed, he seems to have frequently turned to the topos the following year, as if trying to promote Trump Tower, indulging himself by imagining New York’s sixty-fourth tallest building assuming centrality in the city’s iconic skyline:
The elevation of Trump’s property in these self-made maps mirror the prominence that the supersized Columbus would fit in a fantasy of spatial conquest. Its gargantuan size on the Hudson shore would project imagined landscapes that Trump readily promoted. Trump later showed similar bravura when he claimed as U.S. President–an office few had ever imagined he would attain, so far removed was the crass nature of his promotional instincts form a politics of public office–that “the downsizing of American Destiny” had ended. He did so with little grounds, but by affirming “we have totally rejected the downsizing,” a sound bite avidly repeated by right-wing news, Trump has magnified an illusion of the nation, while downsizing national security, downsizing the federal government, downsizing federal oversight, and downsizing health care, while pumping cash into an economy lavishly to boost economic figures.
In what amounts to a promoter’s cunning sleight of hand–essentially of financing a monumental recovery that is in itself illusory, created by juggling the budget in his purview and reducing tax burdens, regulatory efforts, and indeed tax brackets, while creating a society where health benefits exist in different ways for different sectors of society, accorded to white Americans in fundamentally different ways from blacks. Despite an expansion of structural budged deficit brought a supersized lowering of the unemployment rate and economic expansion of striking scale–
–as increased expenditure led to a ballooning of structural deficit almost unrecognizable from earlier years.
Such promotional supersizing of the American economy eerily echoes what has long been Trump’s master trick, from the size of the buildings he promoted to the promotion of the arrival of a massive reimagining of Columbus as if to celebrate his own manifest destiny as a hotelier. Indeed, the ballooning of the U.S. Budget beyond $22 trillion, largely for the misguided project of the Border Wall Trump promoted as a task to which he was particularly suited grew the deficit by $2.07 trillion, contrast strongly with the creepy visual aids he used as a candidate for three years, before cresting above $3 trillion. Trump’s preference for infographics however long served him on the campaign trail, and poor newsmaps have assisted in diffusing his prioritization of a Border Wall.
The statue of Columbus who steps out of history, and into the Hudson, offered a bizarre conceit of monumentality, both personal and corporate, whose transatlantic itinerary in bronze statuary of export-grade metals might mirror untaxed transfers of unmarked bills to Trump Properties. The monolithic figure Trump sought to erect prominently on the Hudson Properties he owned is perhaps even more striking for how it cut against both the figure of Columbus, long championed as a nationalized immigrant before he became celebrated as a nationalist figure and the tradition of American public statuary. Only Trump could imagine elevating the role he placed in bringing a statue of a national figure to the very region he sought to develop as if he had carte blanche to sanction its construction. What he viewed as his own property–and his own land to build upon.
Was he intentionally seeking to celebrate the individual agency of Columbus part of a mythic past? The epochal shift to which the name of the Tsereteli statue gesture, “Birth of a New World,” surely seems to inaugurate more than a real estate development. If the statue would have been the largest in the Western Hemisphere, it must have marked a monumental change in historical narratives, not only in the post-Soviet world, but an opening of global markets. Trump was eager to promote the colossal statuary as a sign not only of exclusivity but which would magnify his own role in a world historical canvas, in ways that could not have been healthy. To be sure, the Columbus seemed a forebear of a white, elite state in royal terms–no doubt a reason that it was rejected as a gift by Presidents Bush and Clinton; Tsereteli’s first “gifted” public statuary was only accepted in America after 9/11, in Bayonne, New Jersey–hardly a site of prominence. But Trump was likely to see the white image of the navigator as a symbol of grandiosity he was ready to worship and residents of his complex would worship, as a new Mammon, at a time when his own personal and corporate debt had ballooned.
Trump’s exclusive development was not destined for the disadvantaged, but would address only a detached slice of America, if it provided a spectacle for the world. As he promoted housing designed most exclusively for white Americans, and he would champion the nation he seems to champion is a nation of whites, where African Americans and Latinos occupy a distinctly lower-level status, worse schooling and worse health care–in the years immediately after health care disparities began to start to diminish. The odd discrepancy of the statue that between the 360 foot statue now located on the Atlantic, on the rim of American territoriality, in Puerto Rico, hand poised above an anchronistic rotary wheel, before billowing sails bearing royal insignia, is notably larger by no small degree than the 322 foot monument to Peter the great on the Moskva River, commemorating the emperor’s foundation of the Royal Navy, allegedly, at the site of its western confluence with the Vodootvodny which has attracted such derision and protest as disgracing the Moscow skyline.
The odd formal similarity to Tseretelli’s Peter_the_Great_Statue with which it is so similar derived not only as being from the same workshop, but a similar strategy of evoking a time immemorial in glorified terms of unreserved praise, cartoonish in its grandiose size and magnification of unspecified but authoriarian ideals. The 1,000 ton hailing Statue of the Tsar containing 600 tons of steel, copper and bronze Tsereteli completed in 1997 in his studio–the date of Trump’s visit–resembles the Columbus statue whose head had been fabricated, but its slightly smaller size suggest that the cast body was magnified by forty feet to adjust its already gargantuan proportions to meet a target specific to New York–and perhaps to Trump–how viewed a competitor in New York harbor on which he had set sights. Is it possible that Trump demanded the statuary be enlarged if it were to fit his spot on the Hudson, to afford the best contrast to the Statue of Liberty? Muscovites grumble, about the imposition of this ugly statuary of the famously westernizing tsar, that it is indeed a converted version of a failed statue of Columbus– “It is not a monument to Peter I; it is a monument to Columbus. It should not be on the Moscow River!”–as they seek to remove the perhaps illegally permitted sculpture, but pause at the removal costs of $6 million, even though when the Moscow Mayor who oversaw its erection left office, the plan to remove the statue seemed but a foregone conclusion.
The presentation of the statuary, Birth of the New World, echoes the French Republic’s hopes in 1875 plans to declare kinship American democracy on eve of the Columbian quadricentenary, by a symbol of republican values, the Russian gift displays a disturbingly royalist statue. Such connotations led to its quizzical rejection by earlier governments, but readily adopted as a potent symbol. For it might put a new face on Trump International Properties which the world would be compelled to note, unlike the elegant equipoise of a Roman statue of the navigator, more modest, if imperious, 1892 monument beside Trump International.
A royalist Columbus announcing his discovery seems to have almost been adopted and re-used as an advertisement for Trump International–the new iteration of Trump Properties promoted in those days, whose growth largely depended for its quick expansion from frequently laundered cash in exchange for luxury apartments, sold by brokers or property manager with minimal oversight of financial origins or taxes, if guaranteeing indefinite maintenance fees.
The adoption of such a recycled neoclassical aesthetics as the coinage Trump wanted to adopt was quite distinct from the brutalism of Trump International Hotel and Tower–or Trump Tower!–but aspired to a new architectural authority. While the arrival of an esthetic codification of a new national style was never announced explicitly in Trump’s project to Make America Great Again, the false populism of a neoclassical canon somewhat unsurprisingly emerged from the recent impeachment hearings, in the proposed imposition of an aesthetic criterion of “beauty” on all future federal building–issuing an Executive Order to weaponize an aesthetic of monumentality restrictive of our national narratives—under the false populism of pretenses to give “voice to the 99% who do not like what our government has been building,” amalgamating anti-government discourse to a rejection of architectural modernity.
The Neo-Augustan imaginary of Columbus seems designed to be openly exclusionary of other narratives, rehabilitating the Great White Man of history as a dominator of landscape, rather than an interlocutor with native inhabitants, and a White Columbus of sacro-imperial authority and false universality.
7. While the figure of Columbus languished half of its parts in Moscow and parts somewhere in storage in North America, they symbolic power of the fifteenth century navigator was clear: Trump was vain enough to appreciate casting himself as a paragon to a new age of internationalism and globalism, a new epoch of globalization that the arrival of Columbus had inaugurated, of foreign capital arriving in North America. While the perspective is a conjecture, the royalists image of Columbus backed by flags bearing royal crosses and Christian insignia suggest not only a mission of vangelization, but of celebrate the royal backing of a voyage on three caravels, if only one is represented in a much diminutive form, standing in open Neo-imperial salutation–
–as if to celebrate promises of influx of monies of Russian oligarchs to the Trump International Towers planned for the Hudson, in what might have been a true Moscow on the Hudson, as Trump Companies were seeking to profit by ignoring red flags of funds from shell companies or LLC’s that might well include e stolen government funds from Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia (whose Kingdom purchased the 45th floor for $4.5 million in 2008, and Russian oligarch. Foreign investment from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Russia keep Trump hotels afloat in New York and Washington, DC; they reflect an internationalization of capital and of economics, and a growth of finance capital, or a sort of surrogate of it, in the microcosm of Trump International, whose buildings create cover for a sort of deregulation of financial capital, free from national oversight.
The Columbus statue projected Trump himself as a comparable hero of this new world of international finances, a symbol of a new age of globalization of untold benefits. From the view of international capital, Tsereteli’s Columbus in the post-Soviet era could be a beacon for attracting foreign financial capital, free from oversight. As Trump has turned for steel, aluminum, and other materials to companies overseas for lower prices, to maximize his profit, and attracted foreign investors eager for ways of concealing their cash in luxury dwellings–the Saudi United Nations team lives at Trump Tower–and foreign investment keeps afloat. Or was the statue of Columbus, more likely, a way of posing orpretense of financial innovation, global leadership, for the most craven sort of personal gain with which Trump has been long associated?
As much as an emblem of Republican values, heroization of Columbus as a royal emissary came straight out of a playbook of an ancien regime. The attraction of international capital mirrored his ties to authoritarian regimes, and perhaps a deep sense of kinship Trump felt to authoritarian regimes who exercised a unique ability to dispose of state funds and personal finances with utter interchangeability, to purchase monarchist trappings in the domiciles that Trump International prepared, perhaps in similar Louis XIV style as his own penthouse in Trump Tower. Indeed, this was the sort of lush life that Trump wanted to bestow on a leader, or authoritarian dignitary, as a trappings of state, without any responsibility.
As the Philippines and Malaysia have had close relations to Trump hotels in Washington in recent years, attracting foreign capital to keep his hotel chains afloat developed in the 1990s as a topos of Trump International, which the floating navigator slated for the Hudson site would incarnate on the New York skyline–standing apart from the city grid and city neighborhoods,–much in the manner that the Hudson Yard do today, atop the very old rail yards that Trump wanted to create his own Millennium Tower in 1997. For as Trump imagined the buildings as a magnet for luxury midtown businesses attracted by tax breaks he had negotiated for the properties, and as an enclave for the super-rich, in towers of steel and glass, the Hudson Yards emulate his strategy of extra-urban development.
That such a massive monument was promoted by Trump as a successor to the Trump Tower–as if New Yorkers would accept the grotesque glorification of the navigator in bronze, even if the massive 2,750 piece sculpture was more of an icon familiar from Iraqi monumental statues, or other totalitarian regimes, beat into submission by the very grandiose buildings Trump had built or proposed erecting on the very site.
This was more than real estate chutzpah: Trump hoped to make a mark on the city, by a sculpture Russian oligarchs had hoped to open frozen foreign relations in the post-Soviet world. The presentation of a gift analogous to the Statue of Liberty whose height transcended it took an unofficial “birthday” of the discovery of the continent as an occasion of friendship. Trump saw it as a way to promote his brand in the global expansion of Trump International, by building a monument that would not only change the skyline, but confused the role of the individual and state, using Trump International as flagship hotel of an international scope to lure international finance to a new world of international luxury residences, lying as if in offshore kingdoms, as sites for laundering funds to tax-shelters of investment that granted access to a world of luxury.
8. The conflating of private and public interests that has been revealed in the Trump Presidency finds an earlier and telling precedent in the bald-faced belief that a monumental statue, of unprecedented height and size, could be erected on personal property–of which one owned but a small share–as a form of their public promotion, and an illustration of personal prestige of the Trump brand that already was emblazoned atop multiple New York buildings, and would continue to become unable not to notice in the New York landscape, which seemed to be colonized by his brand.
And if the monument was finally erected on the northern edge of an island that lies at the outer edge of American territoriality, beside fields where workers toil in its shadow, as if without acknowledging the monstrosity, the statuary of a ship bearing the monumental navigator, its sails etched with royal insignia of Catholic crosses befitting the Catholic majesties of Spain, is almost ignored as an ahistorical rehabilitation of something like a royalist perspective on American “discovery,” an anti-Howard Zinn thesis of American conquest that enacted by one man who sought to conquer, seize the wealth, and even hoped to enslave the native inhabitants he met who had come out to meet him, without bearing arms.
The monument was planned to arrive on a property here Trump notionally owned–and where he hoped tax breaks and rezoning would allow the tallest building in the world–but its roll-out would occur with help from friends and funders he grew acquainted in a 1996 visit to post-Soviet Moscow. It is difficult to separate Columbus from subjugation. But the statue evokes it openly: the purification of Columbus that Donald Trump proposed as a statement of his own grandiosity echoes the sense of right Columbus described the Arawak he saw before making landfall in the Bahamas in his Journal–“They do not bear arms, and do not know them . . . [but] would make great servants. . . . With fifty men, we could subjegate them all and make them do whatever we want.“–despite its utter contextual appearance, appealing to the desire Trump felt for a marker of the greatness he desired for the development.
The conflation of personal interests and public symbolism, continued after he adopted Presidential trappings after 2017, suggested a deep confusion that lay not only in awful aesthetic tastes, but ambitions to a global scope and scale even with the rewriting and remolding of ideals: Columbus is fetishized as a historical marker of time, but for Trump, he became a new way to promote his brand and identify his place on a global real estate market. Trump had in 1996 eagerly pronounced Moscow as having perfect potential for a Trump Tower–as if he were the arbiter of global power, given the fact that “I’ve seen cities all over the world!”–was revealed in the almost unbound eagerness he showed for locating a Trump Tower to confirm the international status of his brand and attract funding for building global destinations, after several casino bankruptcies and a pressing need to reduce his substantial debts.
Was accepting the statue not only a huge tax write-off, but a way of ingratiating himself to Russian oligarch hosts, to secure a toehold in Moscow’s real estate development, almost entirely overseen as if in ancien regime fashion by Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who presided over the invitation of capitalism and cronyism to the Soviet capital, with his billionaire developer wife?
Trump’s overwhelming concern with brand over nation is the point–and seems almost pathological. Rebuilding on the ruins of the old rail tracks on the side of Manhattan, he had successfully had rezoned for residences, Trump long sought to promote a West Side Yards Development, having bought the development rights to landfill almost offshore in 1985. The alchemy of real estate development promised that he could in fact “discover” by residential rezoning a region of New York City never destined for residences, but rail, provided a scheme for announcing his arrival on a global realty market. In claiming a critical role in the arrival of what he treated as fruit of his negotiations to promote Moscow property in a post-Soviet market in 1997, as the next big thing on New York’s skyline after Trump Tower, it offered an even splashier announcement and marquis as it was farther from Midtown; the massive monument might also inaugurate Trump International as a brand, beside most urban residences but suitably removed from congestion and noise, and indeed from the city.
The Augustan Neo-imperial Columbus fit Trump’s tastes for grandiosity. Unlike the original thousand apartments he wanted to build off the West Side Drive, the statue’s size would symbolize Trump International, as if removed patriotic values or state-sponsored nationalism. For in adopting a statue four American cities rejected outright because of the ugliness of questionable monumentality, the monument’s acontextual elevation of the navigator as a white, Christian national hero and royal emissary, seemed in fact less of a figure of state than a mirror in which Trump saw his own values reflected.
The statue of the navigator was not only an emissary, but a vision of the new globalism Trump wanted to promote. Moscow oligarchs had recently offered him as a rebranding of Trump International–he proposed a $250 million investment for a Trump International complex at a November 1996 news conference in Moscow, and openly bragging upon returning to New York that he cultivation of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov boded building only “quality stuff” in the city–just before he dropped public hints of plans to erect the Russian oligarchs’ gift of the Columbus statue as a new face of Trump Properties–and inaugurate the global branding of Trump Properties around the world that, thirty years later, propelled him into American politics, where he championed Columbus as a symbol of the nation, landing “in what today is known as the Bahamas” but as a transoceanic voyage “enabling a global perspective for the first time” and “brought two continents together,” in a geographic rewriting of the map?
The proclamation celebrating Columbus Day Trump issued as President took the second Monday of October as an occasion that displayed “commitment to [a] continuing . . . quest to discover . . . the wonders of our Nation,” and, in fact, the “wonders of our nation, world, and beyond,” that seemed to link Columbus to a sense of Manifest Destiny as a frontier nation that he embraced in multiple occasions as having “tamed a continent,” a mythos of manifest destiny that found a surprising embrace–a bid to “reaffirm our values and affirm our manifest destiny”–that depart from the geopolitical map by evoking a broad mythic imaginary.
9. Still more attention might be devoted to the transactional nature of the proposed monument of that global navigator, a contested national symbol–despite the historical prominence of Columbus statues, of far lesser size, along the eastern seaboard. But if these monuments were evidence of the pride of an Italian-American community eager to define its acceptance and assimilation into white America, Trump excitedly accepted an “anonymous gift” of the Russian people of the ma whose “spirit of discovery” he later praised as fundamental to the nation from a foreign agent.
The transnational nature of the monument–sponsored in some way by a state or para-state actors, who remain in the shadows–of national symbolism, if contested symbolic value, is perhaps particularly troubling. (Does it not reflect the two-sided nature of any real estate map, demonstrating the location of ownership, but obscuring the financial web that underlies “ownership,” often enabled by funds flowing from overseas from China or Russia–as was the case in the West Side Yards?)
The map of financial interests remains obscure. But Trump had little regard from where needed funds needed flowed, as long as the monument–Christopher Columbus, Trump Tower, Riverside South, the US-Mexico Border Wall–was built. That was secondary to the construction of the monument as a platform of promotion. If the map at the base of the statue installed in Puerto Rico, by 2016, with Tsereteli professing pleasure at its location, shows nothing like the map of the sort Columbus used, and reveals no traces of native inhabitants. It is not surprising that there is a movement to have it dismantled: for the massive monument, hoped to attract tourist ships, tells a story of transatlantic conquest that conveys a sense of arriving at a chosen destination that is waiting to be claimed.
It is hardly surprising that Trump was attracted to the theme–announcing the arrival of the realtor to a new site on the shore of the Hudson, or just off the shore–if not in international waters!
The map at its base adorned a Mercator projection, created a century after Columbus’ voyage, with a wind-rose–like the anachronistic rotary wheel in Columbus’ hand was only invented after the navigator’s life, it showed little interest in historical accuracy. But the unfurled banners on three caravels promote the travel to the newly discovered islands on an island where Columbus truly set foot. If pieces of the sculpture only arrived in Puerto Rico in 1998, twenty years after the 1991 sculpture of the “New World” had been cast in Moscow and respectfully considered by six other possible passive sites for a conquest over space.
The location of the figure who was an icon of geographic discovery and mobility, whose truly monumental scale would move a contested symbol onto the grounds of an exclusive set of luxury residences with a private shopping center, Olympic sized pool, and exclusive remove. Some things never change. Much as President of the United States, Trump has been described as exciusively interested in “big things” that related to himself, and the colossal monument was not only “big”–larger than the Statue of Liberty!–but met the complex in projected scale, towering over the urban skyline and Hudson River, much as the building he had promoted for the same site in previous years would be simply the tallest in the world, leading to a pleasure in indulging his own insatiable sense of grandiosity.
The use of Columbus in parades, public monuments, and indeed place-names in America is concentrated on the east cost–he is often shown and celebrated as America’s version of the Renaissance man. Unlike the monuments clustered in the east coast and northeast that mirror the settlement of Italian American immigrants eager to identify Columbus as a figure of their integration and assimilation with a white America, a hundred years or so previous, the triumphal statue was an almost openly royalist sign–and a token of grandiosity that reflected Trump’s ambitions and aspirations to create a new center promoting his real estate skills.
By the time that Trump seems to have decided to accept what a Russian sculptor–and his unknown patrons–presented as a sign of comity, it was clear that the presentation of the “gift” probably served multiple ends of mutual favor–arriving as it may have from the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov who controlled bids for local real estate, since Boris Yeltsin assumed the Presidency. The art of statuary was in deep ways rehabilitated in Luzhkov’s Moscow, replacing the monumental icons of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, whichseemed to “melt into air,” the prominence of a monument fashioned from $40 million of bronze.
The arrival of such a free gift raises questions of above the board transactions and the covering transportation costs and materials–let alone what this monumental Columbus, for which American never asked and whose symbolic value was being contested at the time of the 1992 quincentennial, when ties of Columbus to a multiethnic nation were questioned in relation to human rights: unlike 1892–a centenary celebratorily commemorated as an occasion for collective national pride–the global voyage was difficult to reconcile with republican ideals in relatively cheap symbolically powerful scenography as easily as it in the past: the figure of the white navigator seemed quite removed, and less clearly observed as spanning the map with a clear vision of the world.
If the image of the Republic was the towering icon that was the center of the Century of Progress World Exposition of 1892 that celebrated the westward expansion of the United States, and its hemispheric dominance as a beacon of liberty, the bronze Columbus proposed a cultic significance as a god of real estate markets in ways dislodged from any discourse of republicanism or political representation. Trump was characteristically eager to conflate his increasing the value of the property on which construction was slated to start, at a time he was drowning in debt, to promote the “gift” of this “major work,” containing $40 Million of bronze, even after it had already panned by three American cities–Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Miami–even to import a Russian-made Columbus presiding over the river shore as if it were a gift of state, all the better to leverage a place for himself, perhaps, in Moscow real estate.
The head surely seemed to be attached to an outsized body when its 2,750 individual pieces were assembled, as if the statue were made to be modified to fit Trump’s hope that the final version he was able to see erected on properties that would probably bear his name, was securely taller in height–a Trump obsession–than Lady Liberty who raised her torch further down the bay.
How Trump became target as an avenue to donate a colossal statue of questionable aesthetic value raises questions about Trump’s connections to Russian oligarchs and realtors, Trump’s longstanding conflation of personal gain and an iconography of national populism, and the rewriting Columbus as a national icon on a global stage. If the monumental statue “Birth of the New World” was meant to cement the post-Soviet era, and inaugurate a new era of global relations, a hailing figure of Columbus would have been an odd addition to a region with few tall monuments save the Statue of Liberty, Trump boasted about his ability to mediate the gift that served to publicize his own development. The apparently anodyne recycling of what became a nationalist symbol, if once promoted by immigrants as an ideal of assimilation, in something like Russian folk art was not made for Trump, but the statue intended to be given as a symbol of international cooperation and a new US-Soviet era after the Cold War, the statue assembled from 2,750 pieces appealed as a form of personal publicity.
For Trump, a real estate promoter, was eager to see make landfall, left hand rising from a rotary wheel, right hand raised in an eerily disembodied form of salutation.
No matter that Columbus had never arrived anywhere near New York, or that this image of Columbus, dwarfed by sails that bore royal insignia, as almost a Neo-Augustan imperial ideal. The medalled image of Columbus as a neoclassical figure was mediated through Disneyfied filter, but Trump loved its size. But if Columbus was designed in Moscow, he was an image that might be used as a new symbol of the Trump brand for international hotels, golf, luxury goods, alcohol and politics–a global network of the Trump brand from the early years of the Trump administration, using the coat-of-arms Trump had designed for his family, as a retrospective projection of global empire and global capital.
The Russian ties Trump cultivated as realtor are well known, as are the hopes he had for Russian ties. The Soviets had already invited Trump to explore a half-dozen sites in Moscow with hight hopes he might promote as sites of investment, and oligarchs were eager to attract a new commitment to his investment in Moscow property after the end of the Cold War: the delegation of Luzhkov, who had attracted billions of investment in Moscow by 1997, including 4.6 billion in 1996, and who with his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina, who ran the construction company Inteko for decades, as Russia’s wealthiest woman, and former “First Lady of Moscow,” and owns multiple hotels, Trump was a magnet for future investment–who might bestow an introduction to her husband’s preferred sculptor as a bit of a prize.
This odd addition to New York’s many monuments–billed as taller than the Statue of Liberty, recast an icon of American immigration and ideals. Columbus was cast an icon of immigration for the Italian-Americans in the eastern United States who had elevated the fifteenth-century navigator’s Genoese origins in the statuary clustered along the eastern seaboard, in the marble Manhattan statue that was chiseled and whose base was cast in a Roman workshop in 1892 to be erected in Columbus Circle. Trump’s triumphal tastes are well known as over-the-top and excessive–he is readying an Executive Order, mandating classical precepts for federal architecture, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” amending the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture of 1962, to reclaim standards for all American public buildings so that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style.”
The triumphal image of global gigantism became an icon of nationalism that could double as one of profound personal financial advantage, trumpeting in the most attention-getting manner possible the development that Trump had managed to plan by rezoning industrial yards as residential properties, taking a huge profit from the inflation of these lands as a basis for future condominiums. If the statue was eventually erected after Trump was inaugurated as U.S. president, not on the mainland, as Tsereteli so hoped, but on the north coast of Puerto Rico, an island where Columbus had in fact set foot on his second transatlantic voyage, and an eastern outpost of American territoriality. The privately funded erection of the once-nationalist monument became a bizarre transfer of wealth of a statue whose raw metal was valued at $60 million to a cash-strapped nation, reflecting the financial disparities of globalization as does the private funding of its transport and assembly.
Despite the storied hopes for importing this new icon of a royal emissary overseas to a prominent place, the final resting place of the oddly isolated navigator, became a spectacle without much audience, standing amidst empty fields, at the dawn of the Trump Presidency, on the coast of an island mostly populated by fishermen and long in economic decline, ironically despite the lack of minimal economic aid Trump has offered the island as it recovers from natural catastrophe–in a weird bookend to the start of Trump’s career as a public politician: he had fist declared his candidacy for President in the Reform Party soon after promising to build the statue, as if intoxicated by the powers political office might hold.
The Columbus quadricentennary of 1892 made its largest impact, of course, in the mainland, and was not widely acknowledged in Puerto Rico as an occasion to celebrate, when the island was under Spanish rule, though Spain issued a commemorative stamp. The quadricentennary marked first use of a personal likeness on American currency ever–the reluctance to adopt any image of a person or ruler ran deep, provoking suspicion of the imperial connotations of public coinage, and was allowed on a commemorative coin. It was linked to the universality of the globe, rather than to any explicit sense of territoriality; and appealed to the historical specificity of the anniversary, in the coin issued at the Chicago commemoration Rand McNally had helped to underwrite. If one Columbus is historically rooted with a ruff, chiseled worn face, and four masted caravel, the smooth-featured cartoon Columbus seems far more concerned with his stature the probity of values he expressed.
The championing of the clear-eyed foresight of Columbus, imagined as able to have foreseen the new continent of America by his foresight and reading of the newly mapped globe, was recast in the monument.
Removed from a map, indeed, Tsereteli’s bronze figure of Columbus seems to salute the terra firma as a regal emissary, able to domesticate the New World and impress it by his size and monumental grandiosity.
There was an amazing illustration of hubris in how Trump seemed eager to appropriate the majesty Moscow invested in the Columbus monument as a figure of his growing global brand. The huge size of the monument confers on the figure of the navigator a monumental scope akin to Disneyworld, less rooted in any specific time, theater, or moral universe, but only as trafficking in absolutes. The adoption of Columbus as a national icon seems distinct from the odd choice of Columbus as a Neo-imperial visitor from afar, before sails emblazoned with Christian royal emblems, that evoke a sense of government and global monumentality–to be echoed in the projected size of the monument feet taller than the torch held up by the Statue of Liberty of 1896–that the Russian-made monument Trump hoped to sell to the American people, or at least to the New York mayoralty of Rudy Giuliani, whom he believed sufficient to give the towering statue the green light: Giuliani, the yes-man who green-lit rezoning that allowed Trump to promote his projects of building for financial gain, became the man to whom he showed a pretense to defer.
10. The story of Columbus’ strategic unmooring from history over the twentieth century has been told. No longer a figure of republican identity, but one of White Supremacy, the baggage the navigator had accumulated was profound, and the vision of royalism he offered disturbing, as Manifest Destiny had become reborn as an imperialism rooted in provincialism, not globalism. The unlikely story of his adoption as a figure of patriotism told in a previous post advanced to a domain of authoritarianism and fanciful history in the monumental statuary, long kept at arm’s length by American cities and presidents, who seemed less eager to accept the propoal of a new national monument built abroad.
For whereas vituperative rejection of Columbus as providing anything like an image of national identity of the United States–indeed, Columbus emerged as the target of protest, public contestation, and questioning during the 1992 quincentenary, questioned the universality of the navigator who was an emissary of an old world order, and self-identified as such. Trump believed his prominent position in New York commensurate to receiving a national gift he vaingloriously promoted to whoever would listen in 1997 to help “work it out with the City of New York.” The role in which Trump cast himself as an intermediary between New York and the Russian government suggested the capital that he boasted he brought to Moscow in 1997 as an icon of the very capitalist markets that he seemed to embody–leading him to see himself as a evangelist of monumental building who conversed the language of monumentality by which the post-Soviet era was to be defined.
An offer from Moscow’s mayor mayor, the post-Soviet apparatchik par excellence, Yuri Luzhkov, probably led Trump to act as the middleman that Moscow wanted. The meeting with Luzhkov led Trump to approach his friend Rudy Giuliani to propose a “gift of this great work of Zurab” from the Russian people, appealing to Giuliani’s Italian American identity, as well, he hoped, as obtaining a clear tie to the Moscow’s market. That Moscow “would like to make a gift of this great work by Zurab” suggests the complex trans-Atlantic itinerary of the cultic statue that was fabricated in Russia, but poised to be relocated in the United States; after it was turned down by many cities; Trump seemed ready to secure its arrival on shore, a longstanding hope of post-society oligarchs who identified it with the opening up of their markets. Assuring oligarchs that “I am absolutely favorably disposed” to the monument may have led Trump to imagine himself as representing the American people: it shortly preceded his first declaration of candidacy for President.
Trump was dazed by the Russian oligarchs he had met, and the possibility of expanding Trump Properties to a global stage in the post-Soviet world, including a hotel bordering Red Square he imagined as taller than the Kremlin. He was enraptured with the sculptor’s sense of grandiosity– “Zurab is a very unusual guy. This man is major and legit.”–a grandiosity evident on Tsereteli’s website, his claims of having studies with Picassso, Chagall, and others. Trump was, for his part, more than a bit intoxicated with his global power to serve as a medium for this “gift”–with no strings attached!–from the “Russian people.” How naive he was in accepting the gift of the statue on behalf of the City of New York seemed less of a problem for a man who had already built Trump Tower, which he saw as a new icon of the urban skyline, that had placed him on top of the world–
–as if this would parlay his status to a global stage of realty, in the years that he had already seemed to conquer the New York skyline, as if it were but a microcosm of the world. Indeed, the addition of a statue of such significant height would confirm the ambitions Trump already entertained to restyle the New York City skyline–adding to Trump Place (1997; 165.26 m), Three Lincoln Center (1993; 181.4 m), South Park Tower (1986; 157 m); and the tallest, Trump Tower (1983; 202 m)–both with a taller skyscraper still projected of seventy-six stories with a new statue of 110 meters, or 360 feet–smaller than the buildings, but a nice calling card.
The grandiose Columbus proposed for the Hudson shore would have been oddly dislocated from the island, a site for birds to perch, but suggested the arrival of funds from international waters. It mirrors the lack of compass and mooring Trump followed in his planned expansion of hotels on a global scale. Trump’s lack of restraint and lack of mooring in imagining himself to proceed across the ocean into realty markets, entering the post-Soviet world with a supremacy free from laws of finance codes of international finance and national imaginaries.
To be sure, Tsereteli sketched the outsized majesty of a statue of Columbus before Trump proposed its arrival, but the utter lack of proportions, in its size tailored to Trump’s outsized sense of himself; its isolation from all context mirror the unmoored nature of Trump’s aims to expand his brand from and unbridled ambitions. Did the outsized desire Trump had for breaking ground in Moscow however find a perfect response in the monumental size of a statue that the sculptor must have shown Trump as he proposed to build the tallest tower in the world in Moscow? Adrift as if in international waters, making landfall in Manhattan, where he never arrived, the statute would have been improbably out of synch with its surroundings, but a monument to the lack of mooring in his overweening ambition to advance personal interests as a developer–or, more accurately, a promoter of real estate–who had increasingly promoted his projects by their gargantuan size–a size of virtually cultic significance, filling public space with a smooth-surfaced icon of absolute authority.
For Trump, size mattered most–but the promised dominance over space . that the grandiosity of the statue brought seemed posed to make it an icon demanding reverence and respect. The cartoonish nature of the grandiose version of Columbus that so rewrote the historical role of the navigator seemed to reflect the cartoonish grandiosity, in hindsight, of pursuing self-interst alone as he ventured overseas, and indeed as the disjuncture between his own elevated sense of self-interest from his political surroundings, but presented a sense of absolutism which, if not “despotic in his demeanor,” viewed the landscape with analogous regal remove and glassy gaze, akin to the neoclassical image of Putin in his judo suit, “Healthy in Mind and Body,” as an icon approaching despotism.
As much as Moscow’s mayor sought to attract capital investment to his city, was the monumental statue cast in 1991 a way of concretizing a new relation to space, reflecting an acknowledgement of the huge self-interest of the developer, as much as of squirreling Russian influence across national lines and space? Gargantuan in size and unwanted after it was cast, and only accepted by an island Columbus landed on his second voyage, the “Invention of the New World” may commemorate a new world order with parallels to the new order of end of the Soviet era, was an image of Russonationalism as much as American iconography.
Did potential delivery of the statue recognize Trump’s outsized appetites at promoting his real estate from Moscow, or forge a precedent for future relations between Trump and Russian oligarchs? The gift of this unwanted monumental sculpture to the preening real estate promoter, who placed his own interest outside precedents, was a reflection of his own aspirations to grandiosity. Indeed, it served less as a commemoration of American founding–but rehearsed the poetics of possession of Robert Frost’s “Gift Outright,”–the treacly claim infected with Manifest Destiny, expands to a canvas of land and blood, “This land was ours before we were the land’s./She was our land more than a hundred years/before we were her people. She was ours/ . . . realizing westward,/ But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,/Such as she was, such she would become,” pronounced by a past American poet laureate to inaugurate a new Augustan era of a Republic that had, by 1961, become an empire, the “ours” and “we,” as Derek Walcott put it, were not nearly “so ample and multi-hued as Whitman’s [poetic] tapestry,” written a hundred years previous before the U.S. Civil War, a landscape of manifest destiny echoed in hopes of placing an eastern-facing Columbus on the Hudson shores.
Plans for placing the monument of Columbus on Trump Properties conflated a public symbol whose universality was being contemporaneously interrogated with personal gains, of a stunt of unprecedented real estate promotion by a national symbol. Its brazen elevation of Columbus as a new King, in undemocratic fashion, elevating his figural place in a city he had never visited as a foreign emissary of majesty, unmoored from constraint and of cultish majesty.
In a city that in fact lacks many statues of such size save Lady Liberty, its placement would acknowledge the sanctioning Trump had won to promote projects of real estate in Moscow, and appeal openly to his sense of vanity. The plans for the Tower that Trump later promoted as tallest in Europe–beyond the Lakota Tower in St Petersburg–arose in 2016 after having been rebuffed for proposing a tower bearing his ever-present last name towering over the Kremlin–by 2016–inexistant, of a gigantism preserved in architectural renderings, revealing a similar aspiration to altering the Moscow skyline elevating the “Trump” brand above the city, on its ape of an entirely glass tower that he lavishly promoted as “a triumph of architecture and luxury” featuring ultra-luxury residences, taking pleasure in bringing Mammon to Moscow in the post-Soviet world.
Trump’s tour of potential real estate projects in Moscow to promote in 1996 was the preface for promoting the arrival of a monumental Columbus cast in bronze in Manhattan. The towers he proposed mirror Columbus on a huge pedestal, as a floating signifier of grandeur; the statue uncannily mirrored a monumental statue that mirrors the Tsereteli statue of Peter the Great, founder of the Russian navy and nation, whose reforms subsumed Ukraine in the early eighteenth century, of 1997, that was suggested to have been Columbus in disguise, in mockery of the failure of Tsereteli’s earlier sculpture to find an appreciative audience abroad: the grotesque monument glorifies the figure of Columbus as a law-giver removed from history, outside history, in a grandeur destined for a Trump Properties’ development pandered to an American symbolism of national identity Trump would have understood as reflective of his own grandeur.personal grandeur and the promotion of his properties.
For a man concerned only with size–and linking his own promotion of brand to brusque assertions of size.
Was the image of Columbus as open a political statement as the monument to Peter the Great, mining a dismissed American national symbol to new ideological ends? Trump seems to have appreciated the statue for its grandiosity, and he famously introduced Tsereteli to American audiences about “this great work by Zurab” in 1997, investing a familiar relation with a sculptor then largely unknown in the West as offering him the next movement after he named a tower in New York after himself: he wanted to build a tower in New York that extended beyond the tower he had named after himself, to be joined by statute taller than any statue in the Western Hemisphere.
The monument would dignify Trump Properties on the level of a state–or to suggest the bridging of the diminished importance of national frontiers in a context of global realty–and indeed the adoption of the global at the base of the old Gulf+Western building remarked as Trump International, by Columbus Circle–which he converted to a joint hotel and condominium in 1994–as if Trump Properties were a truly “international” entity. What is the scope of an image of globalism than to promote his own personal brand, and aiming to extend that brand broadly, far beyond national interests?
The fatal confusion, tied to the grandiosity of Trump International, placed Trump in his own eyes on a global stage equal to figures of state, if one that he arrived at for solely personal self-interest. The paradox was profound, and in ways revealed in proposing to place a gargantuan statue of Columbus on his development, blind to the international import of the deal, and embrace of the historical revision of Columbus as a an authoritarian figure as something that would only affirm the importance of his own size on a global marketplace, and to launch multiple dealings across the globe with little attention to national politics. (Indeed, few better images of globalization exist than a map of Trump Properties.)
Is Columbus not a preeminent figure of globalization, avant la lettre?
11. The openly authoritarian imagining of the navigator long identified with patriotic ideals was undertaken by Tsereteli as an early if telling illustration of how transactional Trump’s world-views,– and how removed they were from any sense of the recreation of political space. Indeed, the image of a Presidential authoritarianism–evident in Donald Trump’s striking familiarity with a cast of strongmen ranging from Recep Tayypi Erdoğan to Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-Un,–all nominal Presidents, but operating with quite unfettered understandings of their offices, seem to have found an odd precedent as a model of cross-national authoritarianism, deserving perhaps of further attention and concealing many clues to the present.
Trump aimed to bring to his development on the Hudson River shore a monumental Columbus, the tallest statue in the western hemisphere, which would have cast a long shadow each and every evening across Manhattan. The monumental statue of cast bronze only recently relocated to Arecibo, Puerto Rico, casts a long shadow over the verdant island where the navigator Columbus did set foot, if dislodged from the shady international exchanges Trump sought to broker, opens a quite surprising forgotten history demands to be mapped, as we process the unbound proclamation of executive authority from the Trump White House in 2020.
The oddly stateless notion of the figure of Columbus–who moved across the Atlantic Ocean with royal privileges, to be sure, but set foot in what were previously unknown islands, which he claimed for the Spanish King in 1492, was shown as arriving at a New World. Columbus had to be sure long evoked the rational arts of cartography and global circumnavigation, becoming an emblem and figure of lettered tradition of civility, learning, and mental apprehension of the globe, figurative of the westward expansion of Empire. But in an authority beneath which a history of colonization is barely concealed, his immobile statue moves triumphantly between different worlds, not only as an emissary but the herald of a new order of things. But if Columbus was long celebrated as confirming the spherical nature of the earth–a belief increasingly in question among Americans–two percent ready to identify as strongly adhering to a doctrine of global flatness, with some ten percent unsure or skeptical–the broad acceptance of a curved earth was less contested among educated than the extent of global circumnavigation.
The discovery of Columbus as a figure of unbound authoritarianism was perhaps only made in the late twentieth century. The statue that towered above the ground, and seemed to befit the complex that contained the world’s tallest building, may well have incarnated the promise of public authority that Donald J. Trump was promised by Russian oligarchs as a suitable gift in the post-Soviet era, which might take its place as a gift from “the Russian people” on the very development that Trump must have described his hosts in great detail and with great self-satisfaction, having only recently rezoned it a residential, and imagined as a complex boating the tallest building in the world, which he planned for the old railroad yards by the Hudson River–and saw as a model for the quick negotiation of rules, precedent, and local codes of laws to which he was as if by birthright entitled as a realtor.
The poise and stature of this monumental refiguration of Columbus suggests a future able to move outside a state, or navigate stateless waters in a strikingly frictionless manner. Represented in 1892 in New York as a preeminent Renaissance figure, as if without concern of his relation to his surroundings, but to be a testimony to a removed past, but self-contained in his dignity, but affirming his role in spatial conquest in multiple ways.
The Columbus cast in the 1996 Tsereteli monument in bronze was triumphant in his ability to move outside of sovereign boundaries, demanding recognition as a vanquisher and victor who with the support of a foreign imperial ideology and faith, in the act of claiming ownership by a single gesture over a newfound land. First presented to Trump four years before he declared himself a candidate for the Presidential primary as a candidate for the Reform party in 2000, the image of such imperial identity would have provided a model for the excavation of a public sphere by entertaining a new symbolics of global empire.
Without any sense of triumphant reaction to transoceanic travel, the odd image of an impassive, idealized, “white” Columbus erases race, omits questions about his own relation to the new land of the so-called American continent or its inhabitants, and seems to have been carried by the winds that billow behind him as if to designate him as a royal Catholic emissary of a foreign land, or ensure smooth landing in port as he guides his ship across international waters by anachronistic means of a rotary wheel. The kitsch image of the monumental Columbus would be an aspiration to a global stage that Trump had aspired with Trump Intenational, but was sanctioned by his post-Soviet hosts.
Was the monumental Columbus, first commissioned from Tsereteli in 1992, a prescient image of a future President who would distinguish himself primarily by moving outside legal precedent and defining his exceptionalism to the law? The monumental statue had its origins in the post-Soviet restructuring of Moscow by he new image of Columbus, who seemed to view Columbus as an iconic symbol of a new world order after the Cold War when Luzkhov and Tsereteli had jointly arrived in America to present “The Birth of the New World” as a gift of friendship, recasting this emissary from foreign lands as a triumphant herald of a new world order. By 1997, Luzhkov’s attraction of billions of dollars into Moscow’s development, as housing complexes replaced historic buildings and the monumental Christ the Savior Cathedral was rebuilt in its gold electro-plated splendor of onion domes as seat of the Patriarch, after Stalin had destroyed the structure with dynamite in 1931, represented the intersection grandiose plans for monumentality.
12. As monuments and buildings of Luzhkov’s Moscow, long tied to embezzlement for his wife’s development business, altered the face of the Moscow, a cartoon Columbus was an apt choice of subject to curry Trump’s taste for grandiosity–and Trump’s penchant to place himself outside the law. Was the monumentalization of Columbus emissary of foreign lands, this image of a bronze Columbus cast in Russia, an oddly prescient image of a future President who has distinguished himself as working outside of legal precedent? Is it only unintentional that it echoes Trump’s ability to place his own speech as existing outside of the law–and indeed to place himself, or his invitation of a foreign government to intervene in American elections, outside the law? The sense that this Columbus travelled in international waters in new ways seems but his ability to block public or congressional testimony as U.S. President,–and his own legendary obliviousness to constraint?
The increasingly nationalist figure Columbus evokes seems a way of pandering to an audience, in “Birth of a New World,” seems a figure of sovereign authority taking command over a new world, hailing or heralding an imaginary audience with grandiosity and sovereign majesty that is not only un-American, but seems to be captured in the act of remapping global relationships in 1996, when Trump confirmed the impending arrival of the statue, shortly after he returned from Moscow, where he met the sculptor, and the man known as redefining the art of the deal signed a deal to license his name for projects of non-exclusive ownership funded by the post-Soviet government, with the promise of participating in the rebuilding of Moscow’s public space in the apparent free market of the post-Soviet era as a landscape of the flowering of capitalist construction and unprecedented building development. What Luzhkov¥ branded as a Europeanization of Moscow was criticized as a Disneyfication of nineteenth century architecture to a theme park.
Closely tied to building companies, including that of his wife, billionaire developer Yelena Baturina, Yuri Luzhkov’s restructuring of historical Moscow with a pseudo-historical opulence created a landscape rooted in replicas of rapid fabrication and hyper-development. It was typified by the restoration of the gold-gilded Christ the Saviour Cathedral, on whose site Stalin had built the monumental the Palace of Soviets on Moskva River–after having spectacularly dynamited the cathedral seat of the Patriarch, built by Tzars to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, which Stalin in 1931 Stalin had detonated in a public spectacle commanded as a vanishing of all solid to air, and the instantaneous vanquishing of a sacro-imperial past that Stalin had sought to symbolically banish by rebuilding a site for Soviet glory.
The curious coincidence between recycling a new icon of imperial authority whose grandiosity might appease or please Trump, his Moscow projects paused or placed on hold, was nothing less than a form of bait for the developer even before his political designs would become known. Did the promise of a statue of Columbus inflate the ambitious developer to imagine his role on a truly global political stage? The notion of placing Columbus, perched atop a global map that wraps around the statue’s pedestal, provided a cartoonish rending of the world as a global play space, removed from political power or individual claims, suggesting a sort of global chess board of confrontation and domibnation, as if rewriting public memory of an inhabited public sphere.
Yuri Luzhkov’s itineraries with Tsereteli to Miami, Washington, and other American cities, as a power-broker of a new age of development, shopped around a dunification of authoritarian monumentalism with Disneyfied kitsch epitomized by the 1997 erection of a statue to Peter the Great, at the costs of $120 million, across from the Cathedral’s gold domes–a work that epitomized his bend of populism and overbearing intervention in the re-engineering of Moscow’s public space to rewrite public memory in a seat where 80% of Russia’s wealth was concentrated–with two-thirds of foreign investment; he crafted his own style of privatization with the development firm of his second wife, Intenko, promoting a new vision of Russonationalism and Russian chauvinism while guiding Moscow through the real-estate boom in which Donald Trump had landed in 1996. When Trump toured the vast underground shopping complex, Manezh, beside Red Square, as a potential site to build a hotel.
At a time when increasing capital was arriving for construction projects in Moscow, Trump offered a known model for global capital, no doubt familiar to Luzkhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, who exploited her husband’s office as a developer, and whose connections to organized crime has been revealed by Wikileaks. Trump claimed losses of $916 million in his 1995 tax returns, as projects failed in Atlantic City and the Plaza; he hoped to refurbish his finances by ventures in Yuri Luzhkov’s Moscow, boasting to build Trump International and a new Trump Tower–expanding the developer’s 1986 hope, about which he crowed in Art of the Deal, for “a large luxury style hotel across the street from the Kremlin” bearing his name, despite resistance at erecting the world’s highest skyscraper in competition with the Kremlin–a qualification of which Trump’s unbounded ambitions were perhaps not aware.
In Moscow, Trump had proposed a $250 million investment for a Trump International complex at a November 1996 news conference, bragging upon returning to New York that his ties to Luzhkov boded success in building only “quality stuff”–when he first dropped a public hint about plans for the Columbus statue. The trip to Moscow was not so climactic, for Trump International, although the trip led to attracting Russian investors only to a Trump International Beach Resort in South Florida.
One might pause, however, at this globe that Trump seems to have adopted as his new venture’s emblem, and the similarly gaudy image of a new globalism distinguishing Trump International–epitomized by the rebuilding of the enormous silvered globe encircled by orbital rings. This very globe long stood at the building Trump has rebranded as Trump International Hotel and Tower at New York’s Columbus Circle–as if the globe could provide a powerful basis of international brand that Trump could tap into having purchased the old Time-Life building at Columbus Circle, and the globe itself had come on its property.
The provision of Trump with a new image of Columbus on his Hudson Yards development would glorify his self-fashioning and marketing as a truly international developer. Was the discussion of the arrival of Tsereteli’s monumental figure of the navigator meant to hold an image of the orbital globe that Trump saw as an emblem of his new expansive network of global real estate properties beyond New York City–as if to brand the statue that was located on his properties as an icon of its aspirations to an actual globalism, and as if a statue could bolster its claims to internationality by virtue of a monumental map.
The brokering of new sites of power and monumentality were both local, and occurred on an international stage. Was the statue of Columbus that Luzhkov brought to America nothing less than a bid to rewrite the memory of the navigator as a figure of the place of commerce in the globalized world. The monumentalization of the voyage of discovery installed eventually in Puerto Rico in 2016, on the eve of the Trump Presidency, hinted at a new image of authoritarianism to come, blurred and with soft edges: in casting a Christopher Columbus on steroids as an emissary of royal Catholic majesty, he seems almost an emissary of a new global order. If a relic of the rebuilding of Moscow under the Luzhkov’s corrupt mayoralty, when billions arrived in Moscow for rebuilding d to the awarding of building and development contracts often tied to Intenko, his wife billionaire wife Yelena Baturina’s real estate company, over the eighteen years he held power since 1992 in Moscow, rewriting the past by the free market, this unmoored Columbus, arms elevated in apparent victory, offered a disturbingly authoritarian image, inaugurating hidden financial exchanges in a new global era of illicit international transfers and underwater financial transactions.
This Columbus seems dressed in neoclassical robes to bolster his authority, and anachronistically cast as guiding his craft by a rotary wheel, but as an emissary of sovereign right, who claims a pride of place as existing outside any legal code or precedent. The evocation of such a figure of extra-legal majesty, and truly transnational authority, seems crafted from a symbolics of authoritarianism, dear to a devout sculptor who would specialize in Neo-imperial statuary, who had already reclad Tsar Peter the Great in Roman robes in a strikingly similar sculpture.
While no-one imagined at the time that Trump boasted to all who would listen that he had negotiated the arrival of such a statue that Trump would be United States President, the “gift” he announced was conveyed from the Russia people moved outside international laws. At the time, his own global ambitions as an hotelier drew attention post-Soviet society. And the approach, made by Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, cast an icon of patriotism in the guise of authoritarian nationalism, recasting the iconic figure of American nationalism in a sovereign fashion removed from legal precedent, democratic practice, or inclusive politics.
In deeply disturbing ways, the combination of self-interest and public interest, or the inability to distinguish self-interest and public interest, that is so characteristic of a Trump Presidency, seems encapsulated, before the fact, by the cloaking of the proposed arrival of this massive monument, whose height he specified as greater than the Statue of Liberty from the base of its pediment to torch, on a proposed riverside development on the Hudson, as a marker of personal and national grandiosity. The “gift” he claimed to convey from the “Russian people” would serve as an adornment to his projected properties, and elided international politics with international commerce of undisclosed nature, but touching on tax-free transfers of goods and cash, in ways that turned on a figure–the fifteenth-century navigator–who acted outside any body of laws, but as the emissary of a sovereign decree, in ways that were already disturbing to be seen as a basis for national identity.
The model was already presented as a gift to the United States when in 1992 Moscow’s new elected populist mayor Luzhkov proposed gifting the statue for the Columbus quincentennial, its size larger than the statue of Peter the Great would assume when it was erected in 1997 in Moscow, which assumed such status as an evacuation of public space. As billions of dollars entered Moscow–$4.6 billion of foreign investments in 1996–the monument that did not provoke engagement with the past but propose a traditional model of global authority suggest a distraction, a worthy precedent for Trump’s late massive monument of a border wall. As Columbus in “The Birth of the New World” seems to obscure all else to fill the fragmenting of the post-soviet state, the public statuary seeks not to create a new innocence and stability, in a time of uncertain post-Soviet social order, but a celebration of identity removed from social improvement, or from meaningful political action and inclusiveness.
Trump was eager to promote the promised arrival of the monumental statue to media outlets when he returned from surveying real estate prospects in post-Soviet Moscow, boasting about his contacts with the affable Georgian sculptor who had won the Lenin Prize and was awarded Hero of Socialist Labor. As much as only an artist, the sculptor Trump treated with customary familiarity by praising “this great work of Zurab” as a gift that it “would be my honor if we could work it out with the city of New York” manufactured his own authority as an international intermediary in ways that omitted that “Zurab” was not only an artist, but a bit of a figure of state, who identified his work as an artist as a Hero of Socialist Labour who designed war memorials, and statues in Soviet embassies throughout the world; since 1997 was President of the Russian Academy of Arts, offering multiple post-Soviet monuments including for 9/11 to other countries on behalf of the state.
And what better place to position the image of the fifteenth-century royal navigator than to detract attention from the Enlightenment inheritance of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the People, over which it would tower from the perspective of Trump Properties, in the New York skyline? It is telling that if Tsereteli’s later contribution of a statuary honoring 9/11, “Tear of Grief,” located in Bayonne, NJ, is situated in a site where it is seem before the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor–as if to redefine public political space and to take the place of the Statue of Liberty as the image that defined the visual experience of all who arrived in New York Harbor, rewriting the experience of universal ideals with mourning and global fears. The monument that used steel from a former Soviet military factory located in a Soviet “secret city” called Dzerzhinsk, suggesting its tie to a project of national calculations as much as a generous gift.
While artworks are branded an autonomous aesthetic status, the placement of Teresteli statues in embassies and consulates in Brazil, Portugal, and Japan, suggest we examine their role as an art of state. The promoting of the Russian-Georgian sculptor’s work transformed a relatively obscure Georgian artist to a figure of state in the post-Soviet era, as millions of tax dollars were pilfered to instal his folk-like sculptures in Moscow’s public spaces, imbuing with a false populism that suggests reproductions of kitsch inscribed with globalist ideals. The image of creating a new space of public admiration was central to Tsereteli’s works of art. “Make way, rogues of political blackmail,” reads a 1997 inscription on his monumental statue to Peter the Great, for founding a navy that was used to invade Ukraine, “Welcome the ship which has sailed into the eye of a grand Moscow scandal./ At the head of the tiny vessel . . . /Stand Peter in bronze!” The glorified elevation of its vision of authoritarian identitarian politics, familiar to post-Soviet Moscow as a new glue of public space, suggested a symbolics of political unity that Trump may well have taken as a model for global politics.
The attention-getting image of Columbus as a glorified authoritarian figure, to stand beside Manhattan in the Hudson, may have been far to heavy to be supported by the landfill of Trump Properties. The statue, weighing in at approximately 6,500 tons of sheer bronze, would not be likely to be supported by the landfill Trump had rezoned for residences. Rather than most solid metal sculptures built in Moscow, where a similar image of Peter the Great was erected in 1997, the image of Columbus would be hard to support. But the monument whose imminent arrival of which Trump boasted as an adornment to his most recent developent reveals a complex entangling of symbolic icons, redefining public spaces, and personal gain,