The renowned artist Andres Serrano just opened a new exhibition, The Game, All Things Trump, and he could not have timed it any better – since its appearance corresponds with the release of the Mueller Report. The timing, however, is coincidence, as Serrano had planned the show to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the 1989 Culture Wars, in which he was a feature warrior.
Serrano became front-page news that year when his Piss Christ, a large photograph of a plastic crucifix immersed in the artist’s urine, was shown at the Virginia Museum of Arts. The subject was perceived as vile and sacrilegious by the religious and political right, namely Christians and Republicans, who advocated censorship of public exhibitions and launched a vicious attack on government funding of the arts, including endless attempts to terminate the National Endowment of the Arts.
Serrano survived the assault and continued to make photographic series – morgue, Ku Klux Klan, firearms, the homeless – that investigated a range of social issues.
The Game, however, is Serrano’s first installation. Over the past year, he scoured the internet and auctions, among other sources, to acquire some $200,000 worth of objects that are “All Things Trump.” The show includes Trump mugs, action figures, masks, matchbooks, plates, golf bags, posters, steaks, vodka, and water. There is a display case of Trump ties. There are gambling tables from his casinos, and Taj Mahal security uniforms mounted on mannequins and wearing Trump socks.
There is a case filled with Trump University “educational” material. Magazines with Trump on the cover and with Trump’s signature are geometrically and tightly arranged in vitrines – a favorite is Mad magazine, although most are such prestigious news publications as Time, Forbes and Newsweek. The centerpiece of the installation is a rotating sign for the Taj Mahal’s Ego Lounge, and a nearby eleven-foot-high photo portrait of Trump.
The object that seems to sum up the exhibition best is a small commemorative cake that Trump and Melania gave their guests at their wedding. It is stained and collapsing, looking sick and sad, as would be expected of a 12-year-old confection. And the entire installation, while quite engaging, is also depressing. The bulk of the objects that Trump elected to put his name on are trinkets made of plastic or paper and are cheap and disposable.
Or they are unintentionally hideous, such as the weird Trump mask and the bland Trump ties. Even the endless signed magazine covers seem forlorn – instead of glorifying Trump they simply feel like rote mass publicity, and his unreadably dramatic signature looks like graffiti.
The upshot is Serrano’s portrait of Trump is very unsympathetic. He states that his presentation is objective, and that he is just letting Trump be Trump. And that is certainly true. What we get is a portrait of man who is tawdry, crass, self-promoting and completely self-centered. And as we go through the installation, we realize that the vast majority of the Trump material reflects failure, such as the Trump shuttle, casinos, university, and food products.
But what best reveals Serrano’s intentions is the venue itself – it is a former nightclub, Lotus, located on West 14th Street in the Meatpacking District. It almost couldn’t be more sacrilegious. When you enter, the first display you see is behind a bar. The interior is painted black and the lighting is gloomy. The space feels like a funhouse, reflecting both the comical and frightening sides of Trump.
While the objects are nicely arranged in neat rows in vitrines, they are also cramped – we get the feeling we are in a thrift shop, although let’s not underestimate the power of the commercial trashy quality of much of the material for generating this feeling. In other words, we know we are not in a hallowed presidential library. But as stated previously, Serrano is simply letting Trump be Trump.
The Game: All Things Trump
A multi-media installation by Andres Serrano
Images Courtesy of a/political and ArtX
Photo Credit: John Mireles