“Donald Trump is a toupee’d pile of poop” may be something you and I feel in the metaphorical sense, but it’s not every day that our deepest sentiments come to physical fruition. This past summer the street artist Hansky — whose art can seen peppered around Philadelphia and New York — debuted a mural in New York City of the presidential hopeful depicted as a pile of poop. In June of this year, Hansky ran a pop-up shop where he sold his “Dump Trump” portraits made with 100 percent “authentic dog poop,” taking his original artistic narrative to literal levels.
Since announcing what is probably the worst reality show ever (his presidential campaign), Donald Trump has been the subject of some delightful and some downright terrifying works of political art. A number of artists aside from Hansky have taken it upon themselves to create a specific visual culture surrounding the businessman-turned-“politician.”
In April, the Chicago-based Degenerate Art Gallery showcased a series of Trump-related works by the illustrator Jacob Thomas in his solo exhibition “We’re Fired!” (The show closed at the end of April.) It featured pieces representing Trump as characters such as Richie Rich and Batman and reminded viewers how closely-intertwined popular culture is with current political affairs. In an interview with Al Jazeera in March, Thomas said that despite the humorous and absurd qualities of Trump’s presidential campaign, we should definitely be taking him seriously.
Chicago is an appropriate place for anti-Trump art to thrive. The Trump International Hotel and Tower looms over a main branch of the Chicago River and serves as a constant reminder of the Republican hopeful’s place in the skyline of the city. This is likely why in April, faux traffic signs proclaiming “No Trump Anytime” by Los Angeles-based artist Plastic Jesus began appearing in various visible areas downtown. (Plastic Jesus is also behind the tiny wall that was built around Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
From satirical street signs to Spencer Tunick’s visually-stunning protest of nude women outside the Republican National Convention, the very bad campaign — which for some of us can only be described as a fever dream from which we cannot wake — has inspired a whole lot of very good art. Trump is like this malformed Muse we didn’t need but is there anyway, partially draped in a sheer cloth and interrupting our artists’ picnic.
The dramatic increase of political art and attention to political art can perhaps be described as one of the few positive elements to this hellscape of an electoral season; but is the borderline obsessive increase in the images of Trump, no matter how grotesquely critical and no matter how artistically relevant, actually better for him than it is for us?
Though 99 percent of the political art out there using Trump’s image is meant to be insulting and satirical, the primary issue is that Donald Trump’s Personenkultus is highly paradoxical: The worse he acts the larger than life he becomes. Trump doesn’t need to ‘Trump’ up his own socially chaotic agenda because we seem to be doing it for him. I wouldn’t be able to pick Tim Kaine out of lineup of white dudes, but Trump’s caricature-like appearance is engrained in my brain. Maybe forever, but only time will tell.
It’s a troubling time in America. Whatever your political leaning, there is a fairly universal understanding that the 2016 election has been irregular. We can’t blame planetary activity on ever-unfolding recent events; we can’t even blame memes. (Memes, as an aside, are their own separate category of anti-art. Marcel Duchamp made the first meme. Look it up.)
Political art is often, of course, a temporary bandage to long-term wounds. More often than not, a political piece of art offers a scenario and poses no solutions. The narrative of Illma Gore’s nude portrait of Trump with a micro penis à la a sensual rendering of Monty Burns by Marge Simpson would be hilarious if its context wasn’t so terrifying to so many. There are no right answers, and everything is open to interpretation; that is what makes art such a critical part of understanding the world around us. Are these artists, who hope to dismantle Trump’s self-proclaimed legacy, really only making sure he gets exactly what he wants: To see himself freakin’ everywhere?