E.O. to protect the statues

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Mount Rushmore, memorializing Washington, Jefferson, T.R. and Lincoln. (Daydream Tourist)

After he spoke at Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day, Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect public statuary, to reconstruct statues damaged or destroyed by vandals in the weeks leading up to the president’s oration, and to create a National Garden of American Heroes. The E.O., “Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes,” stated:

[M]onuments express our noblest ideals: respect for our ancestors, love of freedom, and striving for a more perfect union. They are works of beauty, created as enduring tributes. In preserving them, we show reverence for our past, we dignify our present, and we inspire those who are to come. To build a monument is to ratify our shared national project.

That passage, intended to describe federal statuary, could be dedicated with equal profundity to federal architecture. A great monument can be a statue or a building.

In fact, the executive order on statuary arises in the aftermath of a related and more ambitious, more controversial executive order, “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” that has not been signed as yet but which has principles in common that connect the pair of E.O.s to each other. The first order, which was leaked, causing a brouhaha among architects in February, stated that classical architecture would be preferred for federal buildings over the modernist designs that have been mandated officially over the past half century. Recognition of the importance of stylistic choice has now also been incorporated into the E.O. on statues, which states:

When a statue or work of art commissioned pursuant to this section is meant to depict a historically significant American, the statue or work of art shall be a lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation. … Such works of art should be designed to be appreciated by the general public and by those who use and interact with Federal buildings.

This preference for statuary and monument design that is legible to the general public is reiterated in sections of the executive order relating to new statuary commissioned for the Garden of Heroes and also in sections on the reform of statuary principles. The task force assigned to administer the E.O. would incorporate its aesthetic principles into a host of federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the General Services Administration (which oversees all federal architecture), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The order suggests these aesthetic reforms at the federal level might generate pushback from the professional busybodies of the American Institute of Architecture, which was so upset by the E.O. that proposed regulatory change in the design of federal buildings. “[R]evisions made pursuant to this subsection,” said the statuary E.O., “shall be made to supersede any regulatory provisions of AIA that may conflict with or otherwise impede advancing the purposes of this subsection.”


Both of these executive orders, the first as yet unsigned and the second signed on July 3, should be seen as two sides of the same coin. Not only does federal statuary cry out for aesthetic reform but so do federal buildings. Art and architecture were once dedicated to each other, wrapped in each other’s arms. Modern architecture threw Art out of the Garden of Beauty. Perhaps on some not too distant tomorrow, they can be repatriated to each other.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to E.O. to protect the statues

  1. Pingback: Tradition vs. modernism | Architecture Here and There

  2. Steve says:

    GOOD, indeed David.


  3. LazyReader says:

    Karl Marx said to destroy a societies history and monuments. No historical foundation leaves them with no stepping stone from which to advance. This goes far beyond marxism; what you’re seeing in these CHAZ and CHOP zones; is the return of Tribalism. A systemic group mentality that stresses survival by inflicting violence in ALL directions even at their own. The first predictable act when a nations government is overthrown is non-constitutional, non democratic governments. Europe fell to totalitarianism and barbarians several times. Africa fell to warlordism. And the MidEast fell to a fundamentalist theocracy. The cultural and intellectual mindset of how societies collapse is well understood and well documented and we’ve seen the experiments worldwide in the last 2000 years and last century. South Africa, MidEast, Asia, and European nations, America’s inner cities, etc.

    1: Put groups with different average IQs and cultural mindsets together.
    2. Different group outcomes emerge on factors like education, employment, wealth, etc (tons of individual exceptions) but largely cultures that stress education, knowledge, industry, science and set moral standards do well….Societies that don’t stress these factors; huge sums of their populace become wards of the state, welfare dependents or future prison inmates.
    3. Destroy anyone who talks about differences, free thought and degrade education and institutions that foster intelligent debate and freer societies. Even those that argue equal treatment and foster legal protection. Then condemn the successful til they leave
    4. Attribute the differential outcomes on Bigotry rather than performance and acceptance of personal behavior and admitting faults (Even when the institutions are now run by the opposing party whining about reforms they’ve committed)
    5. Watch the bloodshed in the streets.

    Hillary and Obama destabilized and overthrew Libya. While I was no supporter of Gaddafi; he kept the nation stable. The very idea a “Jeffersonian Democracy” would emerge from his ousting is laughable…. Average IQ in Libya is in the low 80s, it was never going to happen. Average IQ in Syria is also 83 the rise of ISIS was predictable and their first acts was to destroy all non-Islamic possessions of history and antiquities.

    I did not agree with Aparteid in South Africa; however before the 1990’s SA went from the fastest developing African Nation; to one of the slowest…Average IQ in South Africa is 77. That’s why Elon Musk left for the United States.


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