The “Made America Hate Again” tombstone (sans death date) was custom-made and clandestinely placed in Central Park on March 27, where it caused a media frenzy until it was confiscated by the NYPD and placed in police storage. The artist got it back in July, a journey documented in detail on Art News.
Stout and Whiteley have known each other for several years, crossing paths through places like Stout’s Bushwick Art Crit Group and Bushwick Open Studios.
“I think a gallery is only as strong as its program,”said Stout, who learned about Whiteley’s project in December. “I can’t think of a more appropriate and poignant political statement, and I can’t think of anyone I feel more comfortable and privileged to work with than Brian.”
“We have a lot of faith in each other,” Whiteley added.
The massive, 400-plus-pound stone is the star of the show, set up on a raised stage of sorts and lit in a way that recalls the nighttime of its initial placement in the Park. It was made by an actual tombstone maker, who became angry at Whiteley when the police got involved, but later apologized and called the piece “the best publicity [they] could have asked for.” Whiteley told me the tombstone’s maker “was a Trump supporter,” but he was unsure if the experience has changed anything about his views.
The tombstone craftsman isn’t the only one; Whiteley said his mother is voting for Trump, and the candidate makes his “die-hard Republican” father’s “stomach turn,” but the artist assumes he’ll end up casting a vote for him come Election Day.
“I knew it would be polarizing. This caused a lot of heated conversations. In a strange way, I got to find out a lot about my parents’s beliefs, that I don’t think any other election would have brought up. We’ve had yelling matches, then hugged it out,” he said. “It’s been one of those crazy elections that I don’t think we’ll hopefully ever have again. It’s really scary. So I felt like this piece wasn’t really political, more like a humanist statement against someone who’s being racist and xenophobic and anti-American.”
The tombstone wears its journey with pride—some dirt here and there, wax on the top from what might’ve been a lit candle, a chip on the bottom from being transported by the police that’s most visible in the grave rubbing on display, which Whiteley tells me took 30 minutes to complete.
“It’s evolving quite rapidly,” commented Whiteley, who had elected to leave the police sticker and evidence tags on the tombstone for the installation.
“He’s always had this humorous, well-crafted desire to get under the human skin,” Stout told me, going on to detail Whiteley’s past projects, which include many performance pieces involving grotesque clowns, for example, and a collaboration with performance artist Rebecca Goyette where he played Trump. The categories on his website are telling: Trump, Clowns, Bigfoot, Horror, and Fetish.
“[The tombstone] has this wonderful balance of being elegant and inappropriate at the exact same time,” said Stout. “This is probably also shock art, but it’s also so articulate and thought-out.”
Though Christopher Stout Gallery proper is in the process of relocating—they ended their Bushwick lease in mid-August, and Stout has been talking to potential spaces in “all different parts of the city,” with their selection to be announced in the next few weeks—this pop-up, via Brooklyn Fire Proof, isn’t just any old space.
“I ran a lecture series in this exact room. The first show I ever curated was in this room,” Stout told me, noting that this show marked his 38th project in the space, and he had a studio space upstairs for five years.
They’re expecting a colorful crowd at tonight’s opening—Breitbart wrote about it today, even—so they’ve hired some security to ensure nothing goes amiss.
If you’re not able to catch the madness tonight, the show will be on view through October 9, including during the annual Bushwick Open Studios.
After this show ends, Whiteley will be lugging the stone to Joshua Liner Gallery in Chelsea as part of the October group show “Why I Want to Fuck Donald Trump,” inspired by the 1967 satirical essay by JG Ballard, “Why I want To Fuck Ronald Reagan.”
“Donald Trump Tombstone” by Brian Andrew Whiteley opens tonight, 6 pm to 10 pm, at Christopher Stout Gallery’s 119 Ingraham Street pop-up location.