Category Archives: national monuments

Colossus on the Hudson

We suspect more than ever the scale of the truly transactional nature of the Trump presidency after the start of the 2019 Impeachment Hearings–if not transactional world-view of Donald J. Trump. We have long suspected a pronounced lack of division between personal gain and political office. But as the thirty-nine year old Donald Trump contemplated how to expand his new building project in Manhattan, just before the Thanksgiving of 1985, he set a striking watermark blurring self-interest and political symbolism on an unprecedented scale.

As Trump the realtor searched for backers to promote a complex that surpassed the scale of the recently completed Trump Tower back in 1983, he wanted to plan something “beyond the grandeur and excellence that has become synonymous with projects of the Trump name,” that could generate comparable media buzz, to replicate if not build on the exclusivity of the condominiums sold in the tower: as Trump Tower units were sold to media and television figures, including Liberace, Michael Jackson, Jonny Carson, and Paul Anka, introducing the realtor to a new social arena and media class. And after considering building a Trump Castle on Madison Avenue in New York in 1984, replete with crenellated towers, moat and drawbridge that he boasted was “his idea,” the gigantic monumental statue of Christopher Columbus seemed a fitting designation of exclusivity for the residential development.

Donald Trump probably would have received a tax write-off for the art, but also must have believed the 600 ton bronze statue of a fifteenth-century navigator seeming to guide his small vessel to port beside flags of punched crucifixes not over the top: the conceit of a monumental man staring blankly ahead, on a boat that lay on a pedestal, hand on a rotary wheel of the sort Columbus never used, suggested piloting but conveyed little sense of motion or movement; the authoritarian image of immobility looked out from a timeless past, of an image of authority having arrived.

The statue would, for Trump, celebrate the very exclusivity of the development on the old West Side Yards where trains once picked up dry goods from docks in the Hudson River. The exclusivity of the residences were embodied in their vertical remove from Manhattan island, set far above the street in six towers that formed its own community rightly named Trump City at a time. When associates of Moscow’s notoriously corrupt mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who held the keys to city real estate in the post-soviet era, proposed delivering a monumental statue of Christopher Columbus “as a gift” from he people of Russia, to be erected at no personal expense–it was a “gift” to the nation Mayor Yuri Luzhkov could offer, from his favored sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, a Georgian aristocrat and former cartoonist–Trump responded he was sure that his friend the re-eleceted New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, would be eager to accept.

Trump quite eagerly announced the arrival of a model even bigger–a key word in Trump’s lexicon–than the statue Russia had “gifted” the city of Seville, similar to the statue accepted on paper by George H.W. Bush on a Moscow visit. The statue that was fifty feet taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty, a gift of France in 1886, from pedestal to torch, may well suggest that Tsereteli–who had an eye to promotion similar to Trump– in fact imagined his work might emulate as a gift of national friendship at the start of the post-Soviet era. Trump boasted about his centrality in obtaining “a gift of this great work” by Luzhkov’s preferred sculptor, who he deemed both “major and legit,” to be built on his new property on the Hudson River. Trump had invited Luzhkov, who had begun a radical rewriting of public space in a largely pre-Napoleonic city with triumphal monuments, shortly after images of Marx and Lenin came down, with cartoonish decorations and mythic sculptures to write Giuliani to arrange installing a never-built gargantuan 600-ton bronze figural statue of Columbus: the statue proclaiming the navigator’s genius and faith, was surely expected to appeal to the Italian-American mayor who regularly participated in the Columbus Day Parade, and would love promoting an Italian in such monumental form during his own mayoralty, even if the gargantuan statue balanced on a ship as if taking possession of the New World with a regal gesture in New York Harbor was wildly inaccurate.

When Trump asserted, on the first second Monday of October as U.S. President, that the “permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas” a transformative event for “our great Nation”–without mention of native inhabitants, or the absence of legal conventions–in proclaiming the national observation of the inspiration of the “skilled navigator and man of faith” “inspirational,” did he remember the massive statue negotiated with Moscow’s former mayor? But rather than present an accurate historical record, the eagerness with which Trump announced his placement of the Tsereteli monument, The Birth of the New World, in Trump’s development, was an expensive expression of his preternatural skill of selling fantasy to his clients. Although the statue may not have arrived in New York before the 2,700 bronze pieces and copper sheets were taken possession of by a group who found the Governor of Puerto Rico–where Columbus had indeed made landfall–was able to install it, after, according to Tseretell’s spokesperson, organizations that had shown interest just “didn’t realize what’s involved in something so big,” and the sculpture had been without a home after proposals to seven other cities.

The statue’s many pieces are an inventive assemblage of exaggerated features, historical oversimplifications, inaccuracies, and exaggerations in the service of classical monumentalism and heroic idealization. Although Puerto Rico’s Senate felt it was the right place or the gift, when they heard it had been passed on by seven cities in the United States, and had been lying in a Ft. Lauderdale warehouse, since 1992,

The Birth of a New World (2017), Arecibo PR

The robed navigator appear to be palming the globe to the inhabitants of the seven towers planned for the residents of Riverside south, or recognizing them as tenants of an exclusive New World club.

New York City would rejected the planned gift statue in the end by 1997, as had Columbus, Ohio in 1993, and it long rested in storage in Puerto Rico, an island where Columbus had actually set foot, and made landfall in 1493. But the massive statue, taller than the Statue of Liberty from pedestal to torch seemed designed for New York Harbor, if it was offered multiple times to cities in American territoriality–Baltimore, Boston, Miami, San Juan, among others–at least in its ambitions. The eventual location of the statue in Puerto Rico may reveal the unlevel playing field and batting order of the currents of globalization, which were probably the currents on which this Columbus statue had navigated as its sculptor tried to court numerous possible audiences of backers.

The statuary monument which eventually cost Puerto Rico 12 m to raise Arecibo–a striking achievement for a country that was then facing $72bn debt, strikingly omits any mention of native inhabitants. It perpetuated the very mythistory of the statue was what President Trump was describing in his October 2017 Presidential Proclamation, and literalizes the cross-bearing identity that Columbus gave himself, of carrying Christianity into the New World, in the prominent insignia punched in the massive bronze sheets of its flags, impassively presenting himself as a messenger from Europe, an emissary of the Spanish Kings to an invisible indigenous subjects erased from history. It expresses, indeed, the very “Doctrine of Discovery” that provided a framework for Christian explorers, long after Columbus, to justify setting foot in other worlds, and legitimize colonization, a rationale or logic of “claiming” discovery particularly galling to Puerto Rican indigenous, as it echoes the proclamations that Columbus himself made, both in speculating that the indigenous inhabitants of the islands he made landfall “should be good an intelligent servants” in his Diario, treating them as if they were already the subjects of the throne of Castile, in his log book of October 16, 1492, and unilaterally taking possession of the first island of Haiti on which he had set foot after having made a proclamation of possession to an audience of nature off his ship, taking possession of them “by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled,” for the royal highness of Castile, linking the unfurling of the royal standard to the act of taking possession of and renaming five islands–San Salvador, Santa María de Concepción, Ferdinanda and Isabella, to illustrate ownership by the Catholic monarchs of these new lands and their subjects.

Is there no better expression of this taking of possession than Tsereteli’s monument? “I found very many islands filled with people innumerable,” Columbus wrote in his first letter about his voyage to Luis de Santangel, in an instant that has been pictorially remembered and re-remembered over five hundred years, and all of them I have taken possession of for their royal highnesses, by proclamation,” upon arriving in the Indies “with the fleet which the most illustrious king and queen, our sovereigns, gave to me.” Whatever the Russian sculptor make of this foundation myth that Columbus had himself begun, the 600-ton sculpture now set on the shore of Puerto Rico rather boldly makes to current inhabitants of another island where Columbus set foot in November 19, 1493.

Trump must have loved the statue for its heroic and imperious regal gaze. He could barely contain excitement at positioning the work on his land in 1997, and eager to accept the monument as a gift to the nation, putting himself in a position of grandiosity rightly belonging to presidents or figures of state, but acting, as Tsereteli had in advocating the statue be a gift to Presidents Bush and Clinton, after having had monuments built in London and New York, at the United Nations Plaza, in 1990. Trump was pleased to accept the monumental station the land that Trump’s trademark rezoning had allowed him to raise from the river and reclaim as residences at no cost+. and if the residential complex is often cast purely in the past tense, discussed like Atlantis, as the “lost city of Trump” –perhaps since he laid such hight stakes on it to dub it “Trump City”–building out of the West Side Yards of Penn Central to a luxury housing complex provided a basis to find a platform for Tsereteli’s monument that may reflect Trump’s increased search for an acceleration of illicit flows of Russian money in hard times to puff up his grandeur and indulge his vanity.

The massive statue of Columbus–taller than the Statue of Liberty!–transposed from a register of patriotism to promoting a residence boasted to be the very tallest in the world–was complimented by a statue that was the tallest in the western hemisphere.

Hopes for marking the complex to be named Riverside South on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City of a monumental bronze statue of the fifteenth-century navigator Christopher Columbus cast in Russia–“Look on my works, ye might, and despair!“–adopted colossal statuary of a figure Trump has affirmed as central to the nation–and preparing for its settlement by Europeans as President as a promotional illustration of his latest property’s value and its status as a global destination. If we now acknowledge the global scale of Trump Properties’ holdings or business negotiation as an alternate map underlying all geopolitical interests, Trump’s focus on Manhattan properties in the mid-1990s led Trump to entertain a 600 ton bronze statue cast in Russia on the properties he was interested in developing in largely personalized ends.

Even Trump Properties reduces the scale or extent of its global ties, in a map using pinpoints to map properties that obscures the transnational scale of licensing deals, investments, and financial investments:

The transactional nature of the proposed monument of that global navigator was already a contested national symbol. But Trump was clearly excited to accept as an anonymous Russian “gift” of a curious statue of Columbus from an anonymous donor, allowing them to use his property to locate a monument of the navigator whose “spirit of discovery” he praised as fundamental to the nation from a foreign agent. For 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 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?

Trump perhaps little essential regard or oversight of where the funds needed flow, as long as the monument–Christopher Columbus, Trump Tower, Riverside South, the US-Mexico Border Wall–was built. And if the map that now lies at its base–the statue was installed in Puerto Rico, finally, with Tsereteli professing pleasure at its location–shows nothing like a map of the sort Columbus used, and reveals no trace of native inhabitants, it conveys a sense of arriving at a chosen destination this was perhaps exactly what Trump wanted in it. While the map–a Mercator projection created a century after Columbus’ voyage, decorated with a wind-rose–shows the unfurled banners on three caravels approaching the newly discovered islands–may have been added to the base of the monument installed in Arecibo in 2016, when Trump was at different stage in the arc of his own storied life, the pieces of the sculpture are likely identical, as the pieces of the 300 foot tall sculpture had been waiting in storage in Mayaguez since at least 2008, ten years after the pieces of the monument had 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 sites in the “New World.”

Zurab Tsereteli, “The Birth of the New World,” deal of base (Arecibo PR, 2016)

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. As President of the United States, Trump has been described as primarily 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.

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.

Peter van der Krogt, Statues of Columbus in Continental United States

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 who controlled bids for local real estate, since Boris Yeltsin assumed the Presidency of the post-soviet state. In a land suddenly stripped of past monumental icons of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, where these very monuments seemed to “melt into air,” the prominence of a monumental that Trump boasted was fashioned from $40 million of bronze as 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 cinquecentennary of 1992, when the identification of Columbus with a multiethnic nation or in relation to human rights was far less clear than it had been in 1892–when the centenary was celebrated to great hullabaloo as an occasion of national pride.

Trump almost conjured the promised arrival of a Columbus, larger indeed than the Statue of Liberty, reveal a sort of vainglory–BUILDER BRINGS BIG BOY CRISTOFORO TO HUDSON SHORES–as part of a turn toward monumentalism far more post-Soviet in style than American in origins, in spite of the symbolic status that Columbus so long enjoyed in the United States as almost a founding father. But the celebrative headline that Trump might have imagined undercuts the deeply transactional nature of the sculptural monuments Tsereteli produced during the Perestroika period, from London to Moscow to Tiblisi, which seem to have had a transactional value as a transnational economic exchange, whose “gifting” was a form of hawala system of the transfer of prestige, where Tseretli’s sculptures were presumably paid by some patron or backer, moved to a foreign country or nation, and presented benefit to a third party, with no funds being directly transacted about the sculpture’s installation.

Tsereteli’s earlier work, predating Perestroika, was less well-known, it gained an international currency of its own from 1990, proving a post-soviet sort of breakthrough total art whose gifting to nations seemed to inaugurate an end to the Cold War; the presentation of his massive sculptures were not clearly funded, but redounded to other figures abroad, most of Putin, or the place of Russia abroad. Did Trump ofer a means for Tsereteli to stage a gift to the United States that Trump found of potential personal symbolic benefit without financial outlay?

The arrival of the statue also may well reveal the heavily compromised nature of Trump the realtor. For in trading the iconic nature of Columbus as a heroic figure, Trump seems to have intersected with the increasingly transactional nature the the building of monuments acquired in Russia–and especially in Moscow–as a source of personal benefit and enrichment, at the same time as the statuary of the Soviet regime was being torn down. With nothing to replace these monuments, and empty spaces created in a city without markers of a clear past, Zurab Tsereteli emerged as a new fabricator of the monumental that Donald Trump the developer promoted to be imported to America, presenting an idea of the state sponsorship of art in the service of power that casts an illuminating eye on how a developer like Trump would later shift attention to fetishize the border wall as a monumental marker of national identity, and indeed for awarding contracts as “fixed, fast-frozen relations . . . are swept away.”

The famous poetic phrase is a post-Soviet appropriation of Karl Marx’s description of the massive effects of the transactional nature of capitalism. But as Bruce Grant, an anthropologist of the post-Soviet era, has rather acutely observed, as a sculptor of monuments in Moscow, Tsereteli filled monumental commissions that had fully redefined the city of Moscow by public statuary by 1995, with large bronze sculptures, obelisks, and a theme park–statues that dot the cityscape, in ways strikingly similar to the ubiquity of Trump’s name in New York. The ubiquity of Tsereteli statues is less known than their unwanted nature. But at the same time as Donald Trump would, seeing his work in situ, praise him as “major and legit” as if to bestow authority on his monumentalism–from the statues of Putin that he wanted to gift the President, or Moscow, or the smaller Columbus gifted to Seville–notorious as a vehicle for smuggling tax-free contraband, and the statue of Peter the Great in Moscow, in addition to an animal-themed amusement part.

The complicated if kitsch aesthetics of Tsereteli, if kitsch, reflects a thirst for a new form of monumentality, and symbolic capital, that Trump was eager to exploit, before he ever considered entering politics, recognizing the huge symbolic power of monumental creations as public fetishes of power, the creation of which has continued to inform his patterns of governance. Tsereteli’s oligarch backers seem to have tapped Trump when he fist visited Moscow to expand his luxury brand, as the vehicle and factor who could help transport this symbolics of public statuary across The Atlantic, and as an imposition of power across the land–an idiom of state that informs the monument of the Border Wall, whose aesthetics derive from a new idea of political power, not linked only to corruption, or the masking of brazen illegality, but a new aesthetics of monumentality offering a compelling new language of monumentality, gigantism, and political power that Trump grew particularly attached.

In 1985, Trump the developer was at that time wondering how to work his magic after building “one of the best residential addresses in the world.” He hoped to create “the master builder’s grandest plan yet,” in more superlatives, on over a hundred undeveloped acres of landfill he effectively resurrected on the old West Side freight yards–in Ayn Randian tones that suggested a new sense of destiny as much as realty, more grandiose than imagined. A masterplan boasted over 12,000 residences, if the project languished, with a central building of 150 stories, even if most architecture critics credulously questioned what was the “appeal in real life” of living at a remove of 120 or 130 stories above New York City, even as they described it as nothing less than a “bid for immortality.”

While Trump was able to rezone the undeveloped land to yeild some 8,000 apartments, the monumentalization of the sky-high luxury dwellings, using the realty the location of a massive statue of the man celebrated as “discovering” the continent–suggest the giddiness at massive scale of the man attracted to hatching schemes for a Border Wall.Trump was wondering how to work his magic in creating “one of the best residential addresses in the world” on undeveloped acres of landfill he had effectively resurrected on the old West Side freight yards.

The aspiration to a work of global prominence included global funding, and a triumphal grandiosity that the Moscow-based sculptor Zurab Tsereteli could complement in his proposed “gift” of a statue of Christopher Columbus that would itself alter the New York City skyline where Trump wanted–and seems to have believed it his destiny–to leave his mark. The appeal for Trump of creating a super luxury place from nothing–manufacturing a sense of place and an address from nothing, as it were, atop the old abandoned freight yards of an old world of commerce, and of making, as Tsereteli put it in a later statement, a monument of the sort that would not only define place–but without which, as Paris without the Eiffel Tower or New York without the Statue of Liberty or Rio without Christ, *those places would be unimaginable.”

After failing to secure tax breaks to break earth for residences in the old Penn Station yards, he wanted to conjure a dramatic expansion of exclusive luxury condos on the Hudson river’s raised bank as the latest preserve apart from the city, hoping to place six 76-story buildings, with considerable fanfare, including the world’s tallest skyscraper;

The addition of a monumental statue of the discoverer of the continent would confirm the complex’s global significance as a global destination; if Columbus was a questionable symbol of nationalism or ethnic diversity in New York or America, it may have fit the bill of global exclusivity for the markets he hoped to cultivate–and the offer from still anonymous Russian donors, backers of the new court sculptor of Moscow’s mayor, who approached him about the “gift” of a 600 ton bronze statue of striking authoritarian image seemed the right thing to announce residences in the truly “new found land” of the site he soon named Trump City, a preserve just outside Manhattan with awesome views from floors as tall as landfill might sustain. The addition of a colossal statue of Columbus, Trump was persuaded, would make the residences a destination–irrespective of whether Columbus ever set foot in the region, and he entertained the “gift” of a massive Russian statue after his request for a billion-dollar tax break was dismissed by a wise-cracking mayor who deemed Trump “greedy, greedy, greedy; piggy, piggy, piggy.” Sometime after a visit to Moscow to expand the audience for his luxury residences in the air, the monumental statue of Christopher Columbus taller than the Statue of Liberty itself seemed able to lend an outsized majesty to the properties he sought.

Exactly how Trump became involved in securing the invitation for a statue that migrated across the world, before recently being installed in a fishing village in Puerto Rico, may reveal the realtor’s long-term trafficking with shady figures who sought to add lustre to their own magnificence–and probably launder wealth abroad–in a move enabled by the new globalism of cash transfers, money laundering and easy credit that had attracted him to Russian investors who claimed to have made their money as “very successful businessmen.”

While the story of his plans to include a huge six-ton freestanding statue of Christopher Columbus cast in Russia from what he boasted would be $40 million of bronze is little known, the ostentatious sculpture of the King of Kitsch, Zurab Tsereteli, court artist of Moscow’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, offered a powerful image of this literally “new found land” off the west side banks of Manhattan that would rise from the old piers where tons of dry bulk cargo was once unloaded from barges, at a rate of eight hundred tons/hour, than an authoritarian statue of Christopher Columbus, long celebrated and fetishized as “discovering” the continent of America, which Moscow oligarchs long wanted to gift the United States? Tsereteli loves the spotlight, and as a member of the Tiblisi aristocracy may have ideated the work. Trump had reasons to know him.

Luzhkov was a power-broker in post-soviet society. Tsereteli from 1989 became Luzhkov’s “number one sculptor,” and the commission may reveal an ambitious restructuring of post-Soviet international ties: the possibility that Trump accepted and encouraged the grotesque statue may have much to do with how Yeltsin gave Luzhkov exclusive control over Moscow’s private real estate and regularly took bribes for new construction projects “throughout Moscow,” according to leaked cables of the U.S. State Dept., suggest ; statues of Columbus were a means by which Tseretelli increased his wealth by shipping copper ingots abroad, thousands of which were found in a “gift” of a smaller Columbus shipped to Seville,–a secret that was hardly hidden in his successful holding company, “Kolomb“!

Donald Trump with Zurab Tsereteli in Moscow, 1996

The overseas migration of the monumental statue over twenty years from its ideation intersect with the relation of art and power, and re-evaluation of monumentalizing Columbus–it seems the last gasp–and traces a shadowy record of geopolitics demanding to be excavated and map. The triumphalism of Columbus that the Moscow-based sculptor Zurab Tsereteli planned from 1991, imagined as a gift for the cinquecentennial celebrations, unfolded over the last two decades in curious ways that demand to remapped, not only in terms of the transatlantic migration of the statue later proposed to rebuilt in several American cities, but an idea of nationalism. How the voyage of discovery came to be commemorated as a moment of triumph in 2016 was either wildly anachronistic, or, on the eve of the Trump Presidency, a hint of the new image of global authoritarianism to come, and an emissary of royal Catholic majesty.

ZurabTsereteli, “The Birth of the New World,” Bloomberg/Getty

If it is tempting to examine as the first instance of Donald Trump’s encouragement of a form of public statuary, the decision to tap or approach the realtor in the mid-1990s as a means to install the 600-ton towering sculpture on American shores may assume even more weight as Trump’s finances unfold. The artifact meant to echo the French gift of the monumental Liberty Enlightening the World in 1886, now standing in New York Harbor, as one monument to transatlantic friendship, which its size echoes, had been intended as a gift of state–from anonymous donors.

But the realtor Donald Trump became an intermediary agent of its delivery or factor at a difficult period in his personal finances, who presented the towering statue to his friend Rudolph Giuliani, then a popular mayor, perhaps in an attempt to get a better deal for city involvement in the installation of the monument and housing complex than he had been able to get from Mayor Ed Koch in years past, and the image of Columbus could benefit from the approval of a prominent celebrant of Columbus Day, which he had promoted as a celebration of Americans of Italian-American descent and a stage for his political career. But the Russian proposal to install a monumental Columbus of the size of the Statue of Liberty made of export-level bronze had little to do with Rudy Giuliani, although his role in approving the arrival of the monument is striking.

The monumental bronze cast in Russia, “Birth of a New World,” whose base shows a map tracking the the Niña, Pinto, and Santa Maria across a global map. Its massive 120 m height–350 ft–led several cities to reject its installation, including Baltimore, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Boston, Miami Beach, and San Juan, where it was officially rejected lest it obstruct flight paths. If a close Trump associate helped Tsereteli raise funds to situate the sculpture in the ocean off Miami Beach, the curious artifact was first promoted to adorn Trump’s properties in Manhattan. Trump described Tseretli, with whom he was impressed, as “closest to me in spirit,” and followed his career. The taste for gigantism, colossal statuary, and a towering structure of outdated nationalism, seemed to have allied Trump with the billionaire sculptor he had met in a visit to Moscow where he had hoped to build a Trump Tower Moscow, luxury housing for a post-Soviet elite, modeled after that in New York.

An offshore Columbus, ahistorically relocated to the Hudson River, first mapped in print in 1612 as a maritime route of entry to the American interior–recently discovered by Henry Hudson–over a century after Columbus’ death–

Library and Archives Canda, MNC 19228

–but the relocation of a monument in New York seemed designed to outshine the nearby monument to Columbus in Columbus Center, since dwarfed by Trump International in the old Gulf + Western building, where zoning laws prohibited its conversion to condominiums. Colbums was probably promoted by the realtor not for patriotic ends, but perhaps purely personal gain–a bit unclear, but the tax write-off possibility would be huge, and media buzz quite considerable–the triumphant statuary of the navigator eventually constructed in the territory of Puerto Rico in 2016, without much evident trace of ties to Luzhkov, Trump or Moscow.

Zurab Tsereteli, Birth of the new World in Arecibo, PR

The triumphal heroism of the navigator echoes a dated tradition of statuary, decidedly anachronistic in placing the navigator behind a rotary wheel–a later invention–hailing the newfound land from a miniature ship, dwarfed by outsized crosses of his nation, as if piloting a ship to port, above a map charting a transatlantic voyage. In Arecibo, a tiny fishing village saddled with debt and almost without inhabitants, it was something of a refugee; its arrival might as well herald the globalism of the new millennium.

The first plans for the arrival of the six-ton statue forged in the form of a vessel seem embedded in negotiations for illicit transfers to Trump Properties from Russia, and the realtor’s outsized ambitions to impact New York’s skyline that led Tsereteli’s shady oligarch backers, if not the sculptor, to invite Trump to enable its arrival. At that time, the realtor appeared on top of the world in Manhattan’s vertical landscape, where place eclipsed space, geopolitics seemed a provincial artifact of the past–

–and, atop Trump Tower, above, which the developer robustly promoted as a luxury preserve “totally inaccessible to the public,” and exclusively for “the world’s best people” in somewhat startlingly global terms and above the gritty city below. Trump specialized in places outside public space, in exclusive enclaves removed from urban criminality, and the West Side Yards provided a similar para-urban residential site.

But he wanted it big, built to dominate the city’s skyline, as Trump Plaza and Trump Place still would in 1997, a new addition to urban verticality and remove. Trump had begun selling condominiums into this gated preserve to Russians from the 1980s, selling luxury units to Russian elites, who continued to invest millions in Trump property in New York, Toronto, Southern Florida, wealthy from dirty money accumulated in the 1990s, billing themselves as “very successful businessmen.”

The new colossus on Trump property promised a new sort of new world. Christopher Columbus is currently strongly contested as a symbol of the nation–reviewed in my last post–how a massive bronze statue of Columbus designed in Moscow long promoted as inaugurating a new era of Russian-American friendship arrived in the western hemisphere was a tangled history of the relations of monumental ambitions. Trump long aspired the Hudson River complex to be the most ostentatious change to the city skyline and indeed topography of residences in the West Side and Lincoln Center area of midtown Manhattan.

The offshore statuary he promoted of a gargantuan statue of Columbus, as if displacing all other public monuments in New York City, elevated the neoclassical robed figure that Zurab Tsereteli had planned in 1991, desingned as slightly taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty;

Tsereteli had so promoted the addition by 1997 as due to Trump’s intervention New York Times reporter Michael Gordon, according to Mark Singer, sought affirmation as he could hardly believe when Moscow-based sculptor boasted of enlisting Trump’s support it be built.

Television City, later Trump City and Trump Place

Tsereteli was long interested in Russia–or the city of Moscow, whose mayor seemed his primary patron–expanding his indulgence of massive statuary into America, and the Columbian quinquecentennial seemed apt. Trump seemed the conduit to reach New York’s Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, and to wrangle building clearance in New York by creative rezoning. I n the stretch of landfill for the long optioned freight yards running from 59th to 72nd Street, Trump had projected residences of over seventy-five stories, and other fantasies: after building Trump Tower, be seems to have sought grandiose result that served as a lasting legacy to the family of builders from Queens, that would leave a permanent mark on the city’s skyline: and Manhattan’s Central Rail Yard seemed the perfect place for a grandiose vision of six towers including what would be the tallest building on the planet, an olympic size swimming pool, shopping center, and 10,000 parking places, and 20-30,000 riverfront residences,–a project not only of vanity, but with the goal of fixing his presence in Manhattan’s skyline.

1. Trump appeared attracted to the statue for patriotic associations long associated with the fifteenth-century navigator, than the monumentality of the statue, and its massive cost that Tsereteli described. In Moscow, having a Tsereteli seemed a confirmation of authority and grandeur, if by an aesthetics more monumental than sublime.

For even for the younger Donald Trump, statuary was an extension of the cult of personality and magic “personal” touch that he sought to invest in his buildings and to distinguish them by as monuments in their own right. The statue of Columbus–only later called The Discovery of the New World in official records, was a grandiose image of a commemorated individual who was identified with New York by virtue of its Italian American community–and the Columbus Day Parade–that was part of his own landscape. Its gigantic monumentality a mirror image of the very budding complex he sought to create, monumental statuary promised the possibility of promoting the complex, and the opportunity to consolidate his relations with the Russian financial assistance that rescued Trump Properties during the 1990s, when the possibility of erecting the massive statue on the Hudson in Trump’s West Side Yards development first arose.

Trump Holds Chief Tower of “Television City” model between 59th and 72nd Street in 1985/
Bettmann Archive

–a project he staked considerable hopes on after failing in numerous casinos and Atlantic City projects, and hoped that the government would allow him to develop, and perhaps help cover the cost. The luxury complex would be soon associated with the largest statue ever built in the world of Christopher Columbus, planned as the largest construction in the Western Hemisphere, personalizing the complex conquest of once public real estate as the most expansive residential development Trump had ever overseen.

Standing on the shores of the Hudson, far from where the fifteenth-century navigator traveled, the odd placement of the statue of a size surpassing the Statue of Liberty at Trump’s latest residential complex would broadcast his complex and the discovery of the new world was perhaps closest to a patriotic statement about the nation than Trump had earlier made. Previously presented to two United States presidents after the fall of the Soviet Union, if in model form, the colossal monument to Columbus was embraced by Trump in the mid-1990s.

The curious metric used almost uniformly in journalism and press releases to describe the statuary–the iconic Statue of Liberty, Liberty Enlightening the World, the massive neoclassical robed statue dedicated in 1886, gifted to the nation a century earlier by the government of France, in international news. If Liberty’s copper clad arm was admired in 1876 centennial celebrations in Philadelphia, and is now a national icon, Trump offered Tsereteli’s patrons not only a means to plant a Tsereteli in America, of a capped Columbus as a gargantuan Renaissance newspaper boy, but a form of redefining American-Russian relations after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the celebration of new cults of personality that ensued.

Tsereteli had grandiose plans for the bronze monumental statuary as a gift for the Columbian quinquecentennial, revealing the scale of his plans by defending resistance to the kitschy colossus by noting how if how earlier monuments as the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty, each acquired iconic value as symbols marking place–“without those symbols, those places were unimaginable,” he sustained. He eagerly exploited the post-Soviet visit of George H.W. Bush to Moscow in 1990 as a chance to present multiple models of the statue he sought to gift America, and presented the model that Bush had selected when accompanying President Boris Yeltsin on a visit of state to President Clinton in 1994–the very occasion when a drunk Yeltsin was found, hailing a taxi in his underwear on Pennsylvania Avenue, presumably long after discussing a model of the monument whose grandiosity suggests not cold command but impassive sullenness.

Statue of Columbus as Assembled in Arecibo, Puerto Rico (2016)

How Trump was approached about gifting the behemoth that was crafted out of metals with low shipping international taxes to the United States was unclear, if the construction was ideated by Tsereteli from 1990. The long arc of the statue’s search for a home parallels Trump’s own career in curious ways, possibly or probably with reflections in submerged global links of corruption, international trade, geopolitical influence yet to be discovered or explored.

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Filed under Columbus, commemoration, Donald J. Trump, national monuments, New York Skyline

Clipping Bears Ears

The recent demotion of Bear’s Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante as national monuments pose risk of a deepening widespread and almost inevitable alienation from public lands.  The tenuous status of public lands was apparent in the mandate of protection after intense lobbying of the American Petroleum Institute and other players in the energy industry to cut the limits of National Monuments across the United States, in ways that stand to redefined American West.  And even as our so-called President touts his relation to the common people, apart from the political class, the proprietary relation to public lands that he seeks to instill by removing protected lands of national monuments like Bears Ears stands sadly at odds with the longstanding image of the identification with the legends of the white man in the open space of the American west’s sun-drenched outdoors, whose landscape was open to the grit of white, male conquest of an empty space–although the decision to remove Bears Ears from the list of protected lands suggests an abandonment of that image of the heroic cowboy, replaced by the disillusioned world-weary post-industrialist capitalist character we seem to have as American President.


Trump and Wayne in western backdrop.jpg


For Trump has definitively moved away from that imaginary, and the image of the open frontier, or of this land is your land, this land is my land, into a vision where the very same land is now poised to be opened to mineral extraction and prospecting, reducing the area once identified with the West to an area defined by the priority of industrial claims, and transforming it to a terrain inviting the colonization by extractive industries.  With his pursed lips, and evasive eyes, turning his back on a monumental landscape of the West, President Trump appears oblivious the destruction of space to occur across the national monuments opened to prospective mining, extraction of resources, and mineral industries, as if to deny their history, and allow the big rigs of extractive industries to enter to repossess those areas they have claimed on the map.

The preservation of a national monument that would rejoin fragmentary Indian Lands, indeed, was the strategic scope of the declaration of the two regions as part of our protected national heritage, in an attentive to remove previously protected lands from mineral prospecting in southern Utah, with the aim to improving the local economy and attract investment to the state now represented by Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, who have both advocated the proposal to open the region to prospectors, with far less concern for its future of the country–responding to heavy lobbying by uranium mining company Energy Fuels Resources, which provoked a widely criticized Interior Department review, Trump issued executive orders that shrunk the monument to newly reduced boundaries.  For Hatch, eagerly labeling the designation of the national monuments as “unjustified federal land grabs,” evoking the increasingly militant anti-federal lands movement, particularly strong in Utah, who act as if the government had hidden interests in staking claims to a territories form wildlife refuges, conservation areas, national parks, or national monuments, summons a misguided anti-government credo as a basis for ending public lands.


Protection of National Monument of Bears Ears would expand claims to native lands in Southern Utah/Joe Burgess for New York Times


In replacing a sense of “goods” for the nation worthy of protection by the federal government–the purpose of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which expanded executive ability to conserve areas for preservation of their historical or scientific interest–to a vision of the executive asfacilitating abilities for exploitation of national space, and ensuring energy extraction.

The result is to threaten fragile material evidence of the region’s prehistoric inhabitation in a site recently put off-limits to oil and gas exploration on account of its use value to extractive industries, contesting the inherent value of preserving an area that has been considered among the most “endangered” historical sites in America.




The rewriting of what constitutes a national monument is quite a sense of a sharp change in history, marked by an inevitable separation of the landscape from the past.  The shift of Bears Ears from a site worthy of conservation,seems definitively erased as the revelation of the minerals, oil, and gas that lie beneath the ground within the earlier boundaries of the former National Monument.  The possibilities of extraction had been mapped in surveys of the mineral resources of the region, which focus not on the delicate nature of its environment; the map of minerals ignores sacred remains lying on the surface in its boundaries, and foreground them, rather than the delicate ecosystem of animals and pure water.  Indeed, its pollution would irreparably compromise the region, and replace the reasons cited for its historical and cultural value to its exchange value.

Are we in danger of mipmapping not only our national patrimony, but future?  It is almost as if Trump is following a new map, provided by the extractive industries with which he has thrown in his lot.  And in place of preserving individual sites of antiquity, this map shifts from the above-the-ground complex ecosystem and archeological ruins previously cited as warranting protection for future generations and for the nation:  what was a “good” for the nation is in the course of being redefined, as the underground “goods” able to be extracted displace those lying on the surface of a bioregion of southeastern Utah currently in danger of being compromised–even as the newest national monument in the intermountain desert protected by Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition largely in recognition of widespread evidence of its historic inhabitation.  While Trump argues at his own tribal rallies, exultantly insisting “we’re into [clean air and water” also, folks–but you don’t have to turn off all business!” even as the EPA rolls back clean air and water rules, the absence of attention to environmental preservation in the national monument is striking and mind boggling, if not a relinquishing of duty.

By revoking the region’s status as a national monument, and reducing the protected area to almost 80 percent of the current Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument by 45 percent, Trump has divided Bears Ears into two smaller regions, to allow access to the red, mineral-rich areas, in particular, following on the recommendations of his Interior Secretary drastically to shift the status of a considerable range of national monuments that would include the historic mesas.



The new geography of the national monument suggests a vision that is stubbornly and insistently reduced to mineral resources, flattening the historical value of the region and replacing any sense of its place by mapping it at a dangerous remove, and foregrounding the value of its industrial resources above its landscape.  Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History could not see the destruction of the open spaces of lands until after they have occurred, of course, at which point they lie at the feet of the Angelus Novus, who is propelled forward in time, seeing only the wreckage at his feet; but the rewriting of the material relation to the land–and the symbolic relation to the land–constitute a broad remapping of the place of the west and western lands within our minds.  If labor was the exploitation of nature for Benjamin, the exploitation of nature rests both on material labor, but the remapping of the landscape we once saw as part of historical memory as a nation to a material resource, destined to be opened to a growing energy market, and be converted into petroleum and gas.  Trump has, in short, turned his back on any romantic concept of the open spaces of the west, with some uncertainty, as he seems to take a step into an unknown future of open access to energy resources mapped as lying under these once hallowed grounds, which stand to become transformed into an industrialized landscape, and changed beyond recognition, without a sense of what we have lost.

We are in danger of losing any sense of the picture on the ground.  The map of resources seems to compromise the map of the land by local inhabitants, or indeed the picture of the region on the ground of a lived landscape, filled with rich traces, and freshwater streams, that has long held status as a sacred site in our national imaginary as a frontier.


Wlderness Photography Bears Ears


The accelerated arrival of an entirely new relation to the land, as extractive industries that has been used to demote Bears Ears from a nationoal monument stands to transform open spaces that were once identified with the mythos of the nation.  The resulting removal of all regulations that the reduction of national monuments would mean fails to understand the monument as an ecosystem of environmental integrity, and indeed the historical value of the lands as sites:  it is almost as if the difficulty of defining the value in a society which uses GPS to map locations on a UTM projection to locate mineral deposits and sites of potential petroleum drilling–and erases the holistic image of a vanishing landscape that has long been so central a part of our national patrimony.  For by reducing the land set aside in the National Monument to questions of cash flow, the administration seems to have decided to use a map to abstract the Bears Ears area to the value of resources hidden beneath its historic landscape.


Mesas of the Valley of the Gods in former Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah/Alex Goodlett for The New York Times


The revisionary mapping of public lands that has occurred within the Trump administration is no less than a dramatic revision of national priorities.  It reveals something like an amnesia of the relation to the land, now seen as an antiquated practice of political regulation, and a rhetoric of opening valuable historical regions to mineral prospecting, in ways that no President has ever elected to disrespect one of his predecessors by rescinding the area of a designated monument that a president has decided to set aside.  In ways that shifts our relation to our own futures and pasts, the remove of the landscape suggests a remapping of priorities and space, removing protections from red rock canyons where some 10,000 artifacts remain.  As parcels of that landscape increasingly stand to be leased to extractive industries, despite the fragmentation of open lands across western states.  Indeed, the encroaching the interests of the American Petroleum Institute on what was once understood as preserved wilderness has become a way to rewrite the state’s relation to federal lands, and indeed the patriotism of the protection of public lands of longstanding historical value.  In ways that reflect the deep anger at the protection lands negotiated by the Obama administration–and done so in a way that tried to involve community stakeholders over time, if concluded late in the Obama Presidency–and the obscuring of claims historically made from 1976-2010 alone in the region once defined as Bears Ears–


–the division of the national monument into two rumps opens many of the areas where mining claims  were staked, and allows further claims to be made, as well as encourages easy transport of extracted materials from the historic grounds, by denying their claims to historical value.  Indeed, by reopening many of the BLM claims on the region, the decision to parse Bears Ears from a continuous monument seems a give-away to extractive industries.

The gains of that lobby in asserting their claims and rights to access mineral deposits and veins stands to emerge as one of the largest land grabs in American history, reshaping the notion of the protection of public lands and access allowed to drilling, pipelines, and mines on federal lands, as if definitively abandoning any concept of the value in their preservation for posterity.  Indeed, only by recasting the role of government as securing lands worthy of protection as a case of undue restraint on business can the dire effects of  the plans for expanding private leases on public lands be failed to be recognized as a shifting the preservation of historical legacies to permit widespread industrial leases on federal lands in ways that abandon and relinquish a clear long-term view of their value.  When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke questioned whether a third of Interior employees were “loyal to the flag” before the National Petroleum Council, a petroleum industry group–and desired to reduce the “physical footprint” of the Interior Department by reducing the civil service employees who he sees as obstacles to opening up the permitting process for oil-drilling, logging, uranium mining, and energy development he sees as President Trump as having a legal mandate to accelerate, Zinke seems to make an end-run around the public custody or preservation of increasingly fragile lands of sacred resonance to many of the residents who most prize its integrity.


Bears Ears Buttes Big expanseGeorgy Frey, Getty Images/National Geographic


Valley of Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument 


Indeed, the agressively regressive attacks that the Trump administration has made on environmental regulations or responsible custodianship of public lands–leading states to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for rolling back agency policies of designating areas of dangerously high ground-level ozone in unprecedented ways–is mirrored in the attack on protecting public lands, on which the Interior Secretary seems to have no endgame save leasing them to industry.  The agressiveness with which Zinke has taken aim at the government’s custodial role over wilderness and public lands–some of the few places where undisturbed ecologies exist–suggest a widespread attack on the notion of wilderness.  Is it possible that the Trump administration is preparing to excavate any federal mandate to protect historic lands, as well as to allow the expansion of extraction across previously protected lands?

When Interior Secretary Zinke complains “I can’t change the culture without changing the structure,” he suggests a broad disbanding of regulations accumulated over time with local groups after consideration of public impact that he wants to cast as obstructionists and arbitrary bureaucrats.  Yet when Zinke suggested that “Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” he conjures a terrifying hybridization of manifest destiny and unrestrained corporate greed.  Zinke’s initial review of a full twenty-one National Monuments on federal land stand to change the landscape of the American west.  For in removing acreage of interest to private industry from federal protection, in a particularly short-sighted move under the quixotic banner of energy independence, the Trump administration seems bent on allowing the very federal lands protected by government for posterity to be treated as lots able to be leased for private development, without appreciation of their historical, cultural, or sacred value.  The map of National Monuments under “review” suggest a euphemism analogous to downsizing, and a shift in the conception of the custody of national lands–including the Grand Canyon–that seems to prepare for the excavation of what were the most protected federal lands.



Reduced Monuments


The expansion of national monuments currently designated “under review”–which has led to the recent declaration shrinking Bears Ears and renaming two protected areas that constitute but a rump of the once National Monument he Obama administration named after substantive negotiation with local stake-holders, reveal the dangerously unconsidered course by which protected public lands stand to be declassified in order to meet the demands of private industries, many of whom have already mapped mineral deposits or previously leased mines in their ground.  Zinke tweeted images of how he rode to his first day as Secretary on Interior on a horse named Tonto, sporting a ten gallon hat, flanked by the US Park Police, in a coded gesture to fulfill the demands of farmers and outdoorsmen:  the self-designated cowboy of Trump’s cabinet was on his way to eliminate protected status of federal lands, ready to remap most delicate open areas for extractive industries and the environmentally toxic mining and drilling of fossil fuels, in the name of energy independence:  if intended to evoke Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment to the outdoors, the dark garb and black hat suggested apt funereal garb to preside over the dismemberment of the American West.  But the usurpation of an identity as a cowboy outdoorsman in which Zinke has cultivated seems an apt metaphor, if unintentional, for the disenfranchisement of native inhabitants of a land that has been hold sacred for generations, and is a priceless repository for cultural artifacts and prehistoric ruins, as well as a priceless fossil record of dinosaur bones.


Zinke Goes to Work.png


Zinc’s cultivation of the image of a cowboy outdoorsman who loves western open lands exemplifies a dangerous sort of double-dealing.  For his policies he adopts run rampant over protection of the most fragile federal lands.   And despite presenting a public face of affection for the outdoors concealing the agenda of energy industries to shift the landscape of the American West, the re-dimensioning of public lands and National Monuments opens them to coal industries and petroleum and uranium mining.

The redrawing of Bears Ears is isolated, but foretells a terrible vision of the curtailment of federal lands by future leasing, drilling, and mining–at the same time as curtailing access to parks by substantially raising their entrance fees nationwide.  Nowhere are the fears of opening lands to drilling more feared than in the Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.   Yet under the quixotic directive of ensuring “American energy dominance” the koan of the Trump administration, and the meaningless slogan “Energy Is Good,” the charge to remove regulations on coal, drilling, and oil pipelines are cast as a means to confirm our prosperity and energy independence as a nation, in deeply misguided ways that are based only on doublespeak, but epitomized by the withdrawal of any sense of custody for the increased scarcity of undisturbed open lands, or an obligation to future Americans.

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Filed under American West, Bears Ears, environmental preservation, federal land protection, national monuments