Can Trump Make Art Great Again?

By Martyna Majewska

Who will have the most ubiquitous presence on the Internet in 2016? I’m afraid in this case I have to vote Trump. As annoying as he is, and as tired as we are of hearing him speak on whatever topic, Donald Trump is not someone we can remain neutral to. Not only has the man amassed an impossible fortune, he also continues to generate an incredible spectrum of reactions: from passionate love to uninhibited laughter to intense hatred. Given all this, I hope no one will be offended if I advance a claim that Donald Trump is like a good work of art. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has also become an inspiration to artists. Here are some examples.

Let’s start with the rather well-known story of the disgusting remarks about menstruation fired at the journalist Megyn Kelly during the Republican primary debate in August. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s sexist performance provoked a public backlash: sometimes it seems that’s exactly what he wants to accomplish. Yet he could not have expected the reaction he got from the artist Sarah Levy, who painted a portrait of him using her menstrual blood. The idea of painting with menstrual blood does not seem controversial in and of itself and Levy is definitely neither the first nor the only artist to do so. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having such a portrait of myself and I’m sure few of my friends would feel upset in Trump’s position. This is why the work is brilliant: it can only offend Trump himself and his like. The fact that it is not a caricature, but rather a lifelike depiction makes it all the more powerful. Plus the red matches the Republican Party’s colour scheme.

Another interesting likeness of Donald Trump is Illma Gore’s I’ll Make America Great Again. This time, the medium is more traditional – a drawing in pencil and pastel. Though the genre of the male nude is usually associated with edifices of gods and ancient heroes, Gore’s Trump is no Adonis (I shall not attempt a more comprehensive evaluation of the sitter’s fitness). I’m not convinced that this is the most intelligent way to ridicule Trump, but the drawing definitely shows that Donald is only human.   

Conor Collins’s mockery seems to be more serious and bitter. His Trump is made up of the most shocking statements ever enunciated by the presidential candidate. While the idea behind the portrait is not provocative itself, Collins’s work reminds us that Trump really did say all those outrageously sexist and racist things. Lunatic as he may seem, he knows what he’s saying. No matter how hard Trump tries to distort the sense of his statements when faced with criticism and protest, we mustn’t forget that the words included in Collins’s portrait were really uttered. After all, even Pope Francis does not seem to be able to forgive Trump for what he says, and it was him who declared 2016 the Holy Year of Mercy.

Finally, the most complex work on Trump so far appears to be the T.RUMP Bus created by David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic. The artists purchased Trump’s actual campaign bus on Craiglist and transformed it into an all-in-one mobile artwork and exhibition site. The side of the bus is now adorned with a new slogan, which reads: “#MAKE FRUIT PUNCH GREAT AGAIN!.” One of the works references Hitler’s Mein Kampf, presenting an imagined list of goals for Trump to accomplish. These include “not to hate” and “to seek mental health.” While “My Struggle” is displayed on the bus’s window and the slogan is capitalised and rather conspicuous, some viewers have reportedly mistaken T.RUMP for Trump’s original campaign bus. This only adds to the humour and resonance of this work. We can only hope that Gleeson and Mihelic’s project will be sustained (but not for too long). 

Artworks inspired by the life and work of Donald Trump are pungent, witty, and entertaining; it’s no wonder they attract publicity. Trump’s recent victories suggest that we can expect just as many more repulsive ideas and remarks from Trump himself as Trump-related images and artistic projects. Whoever wins in the end, I don’t think these works will ever make their way to the White House: Trump would probably like to forget about them, and his opponents would probably like to forget about him.