Tag Archives: kitsch

Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

Long before he was elected United States President by an odd turn of events, real estate developer Donald Trump purchased the iconic Gulf + Western Building on the southwest corner of Central Park, emptying the modernist structure of coporate America by emptying ir of all offices, remaking a skyscraper beside the statuary at the center of Columbus Circle on a pedestal that once rose above city traffic of Manhattan’s central arteries. The skyscraper was larger than what zoning laws in New York allowed to be built by 1994, the building became a sort of shell game for a new Trump Tower that the realtor was desperate to construct, as a “premier residential site–one of the best in the world,” named “1 Central Park West.” When he returned to Moscow in the post-soviet era, where he had entertained in the Gorbachev Era of “restructuring,” to explore deals to expand his brand to Moscow, on a belief “some people have an ability to negotiate” that is innate: and in 1984, shortly after he married Ivana, Donald had seemed to reinvent his negotiating abilities to include of nuclear arms and strategic arms limitations, and imagining he might be ambassador to Russia, worked to recast the realtor as a bona fide international operator, allegedly at Roy Cohn’s urging, able to orchestrate strategic arms limitation talks, and when the Soviet Ambassador arrived in Trump Tower,  Trump boasted in The Art of the Deal, “building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government” as an expression of interest for a joint venture the led to the claim in a right-wing publicationThe Soviets are reportedly looking a lot more kindly on a possible presidential bid by Donald Trump, the New York builder who has amassed a fortune through real estate speculation” closely tied to “the notorious, organized-crime linked Resorts International.,” soon before he was enrolled in the 1988 Republican primary

The return of the realtor tot he post-Soviet city with new hopes to return to the hope to move a new Trump Tower in Moscow was marked by When Trump International plans for a Moscow hotel returned in 1997, did discussions with the post-Soviet opportunistic mayor trying to turn a trick move from resuscitating Trump Tower Moscow–the biggest chit that Donald could play in Moscow!–to the plans he drew up with Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson, and Robert A.M. Stern for luxury apartments towering over the Corinthian columns lifting Christofer Columbus, a column so contested as a part of the national memory, but erected by the Italian American community? And did attention turn to the monument of Columbus that was partly shipped to the United States, which not only Mayor Luzhkin and his real estate developer wife, but Boris Yeltsin offered Presidents Clinton and Bush as a sign of future partnership between the countries–a symbolic marker of their hopes for displacing the special relation of the United States and the EU? Perhaps as Trump was contemplating what sort of building he could plan across the street from Red Square, towering above the Kremlin, did the realtor fly, like a moth, too close to the flame, and he was offered a towering bronze Columbus that might be built near his riverside complex, as a prominent marker of a new relation of Russia and America? While these images were made in an LOI 2015, in a planned 120 story “world class luxury condominium,” with pool, Trump World Tower Moscow, the initial plans for Trump tower began long before Michael Cohen lied, but perhaps in the prospective conversion of Federation Tower as a building he might brand with the Trump name, just before 2008, and which Trump wanted to repurpose in 2013.

Buzzfeed News

About the time that Trump visited Moscow in 1997, discussion turned to the shipping the body monumental piece of Columbus statuary–the largest built–to New York, whose head was already in the United States territory. “On the banks of every great river in the world, you’ll find a monument to excess,” observed a bombastic character in Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide observes, on British imperial plans for a port at Calcutta. The building of the port recalled an imperial relation to sovereign territory in the 2004 novel was, perhaps in retrospect seems a bit of a tacit critique of the plans for constructing the world’s largest statue, over 182 meters, and 54 meters above the pervious record-holder of the $55 million Spring Temple Buddha in Huenan, China, and uses a 6,500 tonnes of steel around a concrete core to monumentalized a figural symbol of Indian unity, whose cost won much scoffing from local farmers. The image of such monuments to excess seem a clear corollary to the statue of Christopher Columbus that Donald J. Trump was eager to accept from Moscow’s Mayor, who had earlier tried to resolve the site of a work by one of his favorite sculptors of public statuary, for the banks of his unbuilt Hudson River development. While only six feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, it would be magnified by far greater proximity to Manhattan–and be part of the New York skyline.

Donald Trump, 2008

Was it also a point of entrance of Trump into his authoritarian stage? The monument to patriarchal authority echoes Modi’s statue, but the Russian-made statue that was first made to celebrate the 1492 arrival of Columbus that named America openly recalls an era of mapping when one could lay possession to space in a map–indeed, even to the extent of claiming possession of much of a continent. Its authoritarian image and profile recalls the doctrine of “America First” doctrine that Trump embraced openly when he began his political career; for if the doctrine is based on the exclusion of a foreign “other” perspective, including any migrant–anyone not a member of a clannish nativist white “America”–the statuary of a Columbus stands so oblivious to the other, announcing his arrival as a foundational act of government, in an immobile heroic relation to the land while hailing a New World–captured the rhetoric by which the historical Columbus hailed a new continent as a possession of the Spanish monarchs he announced himself as deputized to take possession of. Perhaps this is an “America First” modeled after the very leaders who created such similar monumental statues of patriarchal authority as Narenda Modi, Kim il-Song and Kim il-Jong, or the subsequent 2016 statue of Prince Vladimir the Great, who united Russia and Ukraine as Orthodox Christian states in 988, bearing a cross, that he presented as founding not only the Kievan Rus, but “moral foundation on which our lives are based.”

As Putin’s namesake Vladimir holds a weighty cross on his shoulder, the statue of Columbus was always an odd gift for a nation separating church and state, as it celebrated the visionary nature of Columbus as a converter of natives, with encoded Christian symbolism in the royal crosses engraved on its billowing sails, as if he were a mythic founder of a state that never existed in America, but would be accepted in the global financial capital where Trump was expanding his promotion of real estate developments to a global scale. The stolid statue of weirdly royalist as much as patriotic ideals seems to have used its Neo-Augustan robes of his monumental bulk both to pose as a new Colossus, akin to the ancient marvel of Rhodes, and to conceal, beneath them, as if under the presence of public duty and patriotic heroism, not only a claim to the supremacy of the white, educated race in the global playing field, but the hope for private gains that led Donald J. Trump to return from Moscow with hopes to build the statue on the Hudson, on a pilot of landfill he was developing near midtown.

The statue strikingly foregrounded a conceptual confusion between public shows of patriotism, rolled out with so much pluck and stagecraft, and the search for private gain, not an eery predecessor and embodiment of what we have come to expect from Trump as United States President? As a Russian doll, as much as a fifteenth-century navigator, the ahistorically dressed navigator, one hand guiding a rotary wheel not used to navigate in 1492, taps a mythistokry to conceal the financial interests of a real estate promoter of newfound global ambitions inside an icon of national prestige.

This autocratic neoclassical Columbus, an unbuilt monument that has not come in for public attack, would have staged an autocratic ideal of government destined for Trump Properties in a Hudson River lot of landfill on Manhattan, looking with thin-lipped autocratic supremacy upstream, as if akin to the Colossus of Rhodes that had indeed been a model for the Statue of Liberty that the Columbus appears designed to surpass in height and monumentality–and whose body was perhaps expanded to ensure its greater height than the iconic Liberty statue given to the United States on the quatricentennary of the Columbian voyage–as if a rejoinder to Liberty Illuminating the World–would have provided an off-kilter rejoinder to the monument to Republicanism. Indeed, if the Statue of Liberty might be seen as an affirmation of Republican values and the rejection of enslavement, sponsored by a French abolitionist who had studied Constitutional Law, who had imagined her holding broken chains in her left hand as well as lifting a torch with her right, the magisterial salute of this Columbus echoed a sovereign relation to the land, although its kitschy visage seems removed from any clear political agenda in its immobile naturalization of authority.

The very Trumpian aspirations to monumentality that had led the realtor to propose hubristically building a Trump International Moscow beside Red Square towering above the Kremlin in 1997, an icon of the Russian capital–perhaps led them to send him home, with the offer of a statue of the navigator Columbus that would be tower above the Statue of Liberty downstream in New York harbor not only in appearance, but actual height. The revelation by Mark Singer that Trump had eagerly entertained if not negotiated the possible arrival of the massive cultic statue forged in Moscow to New York’ s new mayor, Rudy Giuliani, suggesting the “great work” of a Moscow sculptor who he guaranteed was “major and legit”–would be a new Colossus of Rhodes, of sorts, not defending the nation, but a wonder of authority that would surpass his Taj Mahal as a new wonder of the world.

The Columbus in “The Invention of the New World” would be an addition to the building that would supplement its authority, a symbol of a patriarchal order, unlike the figure of Lady Liberty, with whom Trump’s public image as a sovereign ruler has been broadly fraught. The subsequent association of Columbus and white supremacy made the statue a less than desired proposal, and Trump’s eager proposal to erect the monumental statue, five feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, on his properties, went nowhere: if the modern colossus was an emblem of sorts for his new globalist world, the image was animated by monarchical rule, and not by democracy and republicanism, had fell on deaf ears when it was proposed to Presidents George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton, he no doubt felt it could be he a triumph of his own deal-making if built on his private lands

Did he appreciate its political conniptions of using an icon of white supremacy whose objective identification with America had been questioned from 1992? While America has long denied its imperial identity, the statue seemed a bid to recognize it, if it was also a Russian reading celebrating the authoritarian image of the navigator as a figure of state, and a nationalist symbol. The story of this weird fantasy image of Columbus, as a navigator who arrived in a New World in peace, saluting the continent over which he was taking possession in thin-lipped solemnity, was both a kitsch of a monumental who seemed to bear regal insignia around his neck, rose an arm affirmative as an imaginary past of the founding go the nation, as if this monument in bronze would set a precedent for “Make America Great Again”—conjuring the allure of an imaginary past demanding complete the complete assent from observers, as if to allow no possibility of choice for native inhabitants, and to remove a myth of the New World and America from an idea of freedom, more akin to a westward progression of empire, driven by sails decorated by royal crosses of the most Catholic majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, than by recognizably American values. If the notion of a monument-building had long been a sleight of hand, since Theodore Roosevelt transformed the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred to the Sioux, accords to the Sioux in an 1868 treaty to the Sioux in perpetuity, if in fact only until prospectors arrived, as a monument to American empire, named after the general who commanded American soldiers to slaughter unarmed Sioux women, men, and children, by using the sleight of hand of monumentality to transform a sacred site to a massively offensive cultic icon of Presidential supremacy.

Mt. Rushmore

If the Roman poet Horace had famously boasted his own writings would outlast monuments in bronze in the Augustan era, in an age when writings on papyri were imagined less durable than epigraphic inscriptions in stone, the bronze monument whose imperial relation to space mediates a tradition of Augustan statuary in kitsch. And if Horace seems to have punctured Augustan vanity by identifying his poetry as a testament outlasting monuments of bronze or pyramids, displacing the written object by a new language of monumentality fitting a man with global aspirations.

The colossus Trump sough to erect on his property at tax payers’ expense was presented as a gift from the Russian people, although it was rejected as a Soviet gift for the quincentennial celebrations of Columbus. The new version would be, of course, something of a monument to his vanity, and it occluded personal and national interests in a way that prefigured the Trump Presidency, if its construction predated Trump’s political aspirations by a few years. He had recently poured money into boondoggles–the Taj Mahal built in Atlantic City for $1.2 billion in 1990, promoted as “the eighth wonder of the world,” but the 360-foot bronze statue of Columbus seemed a way to use Russian donation to promote his own public prominence in Manhattan, as if it would restore his public citizenship in New York, if it was a quite kitschy image of the navigator as a Renaissance hero, transcending the very masted craft representing the Santa Maria, as if a statement to his global grandiosity. The “Birth of the New World” was never built near New York, but was erected in time for Trump’s inauguration as the tallest statue in the Americas, although the monolith known locally as “La Estatua de Colón” is located at the edges of American territoriality, on the island of Puerto Rico, where it packs less punch as a celebration of the navigator as a discoverer, after resting in an abandoned factory for years in Cataño, PR.

Back in 1893, visitors to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL could enjoy entering a replica of the ship, which had itself sailed across the Atlantic from Spain, entering it as a tourist attraction. The show was the third American iteration of a “World’s Fair” tradition, but in celebrating the navigator who traversed the seas as a home-grown version of globalism, it cast the globalism of worlds fair traditions that had begun in the Crystal Palace in an American idiom of Manifest Destiny-with a large water pool that represented the transatlantic voyage of the fifteenth century navigator, in a replica of the caravel similar to the skiff in which the new statue of the navigator stood–

Chicago’s Colomban Exposition, 1893/Monovisions

–amidst the neoclassical buildings of the Exposition that were called a “White City,” in an exposition that notoriously excluded figures of African Americans, but boasted a range of ethnographic villages.

Larger than life, mounted on a similar boat, the bronze Columbus of 300 meters in height majestically surveying the shore of Arecibo in Puerto Rico where it now stands, addressing no one, its sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, impatient at the refusal to erect the statue in the many American cities to whom it had been offered–first New York, where it was to be built on the premises of a luxury development entrepreneur Donald Trump promoted on the Hudson River, where Trump crowed Zurab “wanted to have it built.”

The many stories of the monstrosity have perhaps detracted attention from what it would have looked at on the Hudson River, or the hubris with which Trump invited or solicited the offer as a cementing of friendship with the post-Soviet elites as he sought to build a Trump Tower Moscow in 1997.

The monumental statue concealing the act of dispossession of native lands seem to have appealed to Trump, and not only because the six hundred ton statue that Donald Trump hoped would promote his latest luxury housing enclave. If the statue is ridiculously ahistorical, planned for a place the fifteenth century navigator never arrived holding navigational tools he never used, the 6,500 tons of sub-export bronze almost erected on the banks of the Hudson River, selected as the site to be “gifted” by Russian oligarchs who had long globally peddled a massive statuary two American presidents had demurred, probably both an aesthetic grounds and for its autocratic form, an imaginary of conquest almost foreign to Columbian iconography.

If all maps freeze cruel dialectics of power and inequality, the image of Columbus, arm on a rotary nautical wheel not used on his transatlantic voyage, suggested a poetics of dispossession that was broadly revisited in the United States at this very time. Although the statue would be adopted as an icon of the “anti-Christopher Columbus attacks from the political left wing in America,” as if facing threats of a desecration of models of heroism, the totem to Columbus that defined the taboo nature of expanding political discourse to critique Columbus’s historical identity, the endurance of the massive sculpture “Discovery of the New World” in Arecibo recapitulated a logic of discovery: even as the liabilities for disaster approached $50 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget, did the town ever consider melting down the 6,500 tons of bronze to recoup their monetary value?

Columbus had become something of a trope or specialty of monumental sculpture that Tsereteli had adopted in the 1990s, at a moment when increased questioning of the iconic nature of the navigator had begun to grow. While the unpaid import taxes on the massive bronze monument had caused it to languish in the harbor, it formed part of a range of massive sculptures of the navigator from Tsereteli’s productive studios, more kitsch than national icons, but that provided an odd tail-end to the construction of Columbus monuments around the world, as if to recuperate a tired tradition of monumentality for an audience it had trouble finding. Completed from the pieces stored in the factory in 2017, after it had been rejected as a monument suitable for the 2010 Central American and Caribbean games, and not erected on the Mayagüez coastline; it was also rejected as a project suitable for the cities of Baltimore, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or Columbus, Ohio, the ghosted monument finally found a home–after import taxes were resolved–although it is difficult to balance the aesthetic ugliness of the monument with the charged subject matter of glorifying a navigator who had been increasingly out of synch with a global map, if not purged from its surface.

As kitsch as the surface of the Columbus colossus is, hopes of eredting the monument on the Hudson suggested an overlapping of spatial imaginaries that demand to be untangled. The retrospective glorification of the fifteenth century Genoese navigator was in the end less easily aptly situated as a global hero on the coast of the impoverished island, raises questions of the how Trump desired the coastal monument on his properties, imagining it as an icon for Trump International as his real estate business sought to expand beyond New York City to boost its fortune. Did he propose it as an option to a sculptor who was still searching for a home for his bronze statue, in storage in Puerto Rico, and gathering dust, when Trump saw the somewhat smaller statue on the Volga for which it was the prototype? If the monument to Peter the Great installed in 1997 to commorate the foundation of the “navy” in 1693 of Russia’s first Emperor was only , the statue since planned to be relocated to Leningrad, Archangelsk (Russia’s only port city), or Petrazavodsk, is but a third as tall–ninety eight meters–but towers above Moscow above the city’s architecture as monumentally as allowed. Yet the the attempt to rehabilitate Columbus as an icon of globalism that restored post-Soviet-American ties was imagined by Trump as a means to confirm his fantasy of his new global profile, as it was entertained by Moscow’s elite to be seen as a symbol of friendship and a new world order.

If the global map seemed apt as an icon of the voyage of Columbus on the obverse of the coin minted in the fourth centenary in 1893,

–the tired trope of the monument glorifying the navigator was adopted wholesale by Trump, as he sought a new, global icon of his ambitions, conflating his business interests with the apparently abandoned icon that Tsereteli’s prowess had so awfully embodied, a new image of a new Stalin, that had served so appropriately to embody–as Tsereteli remained unhappy with the lack of a site for his statuary that he has promoted globally–with a decisively smaller Moscow monument, of Peter the Great (1672-1725), that commemorated the three-hundredth anniversary of founding Russia’s Navy, and triumphal naval mission to Ukraine down the Volga. As the “Mother Volga” that ran to the Caspian Sea was long a symbol for Russian unification Peter the Great championed–“Mighty stream, so deep and so wide, Volga, Volga, our pride“–and a symbol of Russian modernization, and consolidation of the Baltics and of Crimea, the statue erected in Moscow in the very year of Trump’s visit to search sites for a Trump Tower–1997–and may have led him to propose placing the Columbus colossus on the Hudson.

Although ships are hardly models of navigation or exploration, the evocation of an era of conquest, navigation, and the decisive expansion of borders that the Peter the Great statue celebrated in all its kitsch was itself a bizarre step-child of a triumphal image of global networks that referenced not only the Columbian Exposition, but as well as recuperating an image of supremacy mapped Donald Trump at the expansion of Russia’s global role.

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Filed under American history, Columbus, Donald J. Trump, globalization, Mapping the New World