A baseball bat swung through the air and collided with Donald Trump’s torso. The bat-wielding child laughed, the crowd cheered, and the piñata of Mr. Trump, by artist Pablo Helguera, went flying around in circles.
“That’s a tough Donald Trump,” said someone in the crowd. After multiple assaults, barely any dents were visible.
But this wasn’t just a Trump-bashing party (we’ve seen those before). It was a celebration from the subversive non-profit gallery WhiteBox, inviting viewers to revel in the absurdity of the American political-tradition-as-circus in its latest incarnation– call it a caucus-watching event, but with pure “New York values” on display
“It’s quite a a strange bunch,” said artistic director Juan Puntes, speaking of the current mess of candidates duking it out for the crown. “I will confess, I jumped into it like this because it’s enormously entertaining, this historical moment.”
The gallery was remarkably filled with artwork and people for an exhibit conceived of only eight days earlier. Puntes said he decided on a whim he wanted organize a new show to accompany the primaries after he saw Trump on TV bragging that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still not lose a vote.
“That just completely left me totally cold and infuriated,” Puntes said. “I got this sweet-sour feeling. On the one hand this is a buffoon– but, still, how can he say that?” The 2012 election was boring, he said, but the tension surrounding 2016 (the reality showmanship of the front runners, the unexpected Clinton-Bernie showdown, the evangelicals lining up to support a womanizer) made the perfect material for irreverent explorations into the corners of America’s psyche.
“It’s exciting, it’s ridiculous, it’s Dada,” said Puntes of the election, wiggling his eyebrows. “It’s a Dada movement but done by the politicians!”
So he and long-time collaborator Raul Zamudio, decided to “take the temperature of the people” with an ad-hoc exhibit of as much political-inflected artwork as they could muster from their network. They called it “#makeamericagreatagain,” pushing Trump’s Reagan-appropriated slogan one step further, in a bid to troll his supporters on social media.
For the rest of the month, anyone around the world, no matter their political persuasion or artistic history, can upload images with the hashtag #makeamericagreatagain and twitter handle @whitebox, and it will be included in the show. (If that alone doesn’t get the creative juices flowing, imagine a Trumpkin clicking on the hashtag only to find a stream of weirdo subversive artwork.)
“This was an apt moment to try to exploit and incorporate social media, but in a kind of more intricate and bonafide way,” said Zamudio. “Anything can be a work of art– what at one time was considered trolling is now an artistic practice or a curatorial parameter that should be completely utilized as one would in an exhibition.”
The exhibit may grow as the weeks go on, with “ready-made” snaps streaming in from the Twitter-sphere. While we wait for that, there’s still enough twisted Americana-inspired artwork to keep your eyes busy– from a mountain of victorious cheeseburgers to a wall painting of a Trump-faced palm-tree-cum-cock.
Many of the political messages are as overt and unmistakable as the piñata bashing. “Make America White Again” reads one painting by Peruvian artist Alberto Borea, which was stitched by an illegal Chinese immigrant. Another, by Jean-Pierre Muller blares: “Oil You Need is Blood.” Overhead, the video “Xanadu,” by Robert Boyd, plays a loop of parades and atrocities from Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and American invasions in Vietnam, set to an upbeat opera track of “Con Te Partirò“
Others works are more mysterious or abstract– a piece titled “Davy Crockett,” by Luis Alonzo Barkigia, questions the masculinity of the frontiersman myth with a furry cap dangling two vessels, originally molded from inflated condoms, that looked halfway between testicles and breasts.
If you missed the fun last night, don’t worry, you might get another chance to exercise your itching fingers with another Trump-bash. The show will continue until February 21, with more events planned for February 9 and 20 to mark the next caucuses. They’ll include dancers, live performances, and, hopefully, life video streams of “hell raiser” performance artists trolling the primaries.
#makeamericagreatagain will run at WhiteBox, 329 Broome Street, through February 21.