Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

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.

Eighteenth Century Engraving of Colossus of Rhodes

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?

Zurab Tseresteli, “Birth of the New World” (1991)

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–

paid tJuan de la Cosa, 1510 (Naval Museum of Madrid)

–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.

5. Did placement of 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? Or was it only assimilated to his own fascination with a language of monumentality?

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?

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–

Triumphal Figure of Columbus in “Birth of the New World”

–akin to authoritarian images in North Korea,

Kim il-Song, Pyonyang
Kim il-Jong Statue

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 the first Homeland Secretary, Vallabhabhai Patel (1875-1950), Astrid the Narmada River in traditional dhoti–which Modi unveiled in 2018 to great celebration, facing the wSardar Sarovar Dam, in the middle of nowhere, as if to conceal the 1992 killings of Muslims after assuming the office of Prime Minister.

Amit Dave/Reuters

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.

Donald J. Trump, signed origina artwork of New York Skyline (208)

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.”

 Donald J. Trump, 2004 doodle of the Manhattan skyline,

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:

New York Skyline in Sharpie, Donald J. Trump (2005)

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.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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.

Peter the Great Statuary (2014), photo by Shuvaev 

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.

Oening of Trump International Hotel and Tower in 1997, (c) James Luges, New York Daily News

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.

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

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