Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

6. What was the aim of introducing Columbus as a new landmarks on the Manhattan skyline, a second act for Trump Tower? 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.

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.

Hudson Yards, set apart from New York City grid

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 of international exclusivity.

Trump International

Leave a comment

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.