Response and Resistance: Artists Push Back

In our last blog post, A Sea of Signs: Resistance, we discussed the recent wave of marches here and all around the world protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.

The hand held signs at these marches ranged from sophisticated to amateurish, but they all captured the sense of frustration and anger people feel about the current political situation.

That frustration and anger is also expressed by artists from every field. In addition to the long list of world-class musicians and performers who refused to participate in Donald Trump’s inauguration, visual artists also called for protests. Let’s look at a few…

One of the first of these protests was The Nasty Women Art Exhibition. This event was born on Facebook when New York based artist Roxanne Jackson posted the following message, “Hello female artists/curators! Let’s organize a NASTY WOMEN group show!!! Who’s interested???” Within an hour she had 300 responses. Her original call was posted shortly after the election. When the show opened two months later she had over 1000 submissions from 700 artists.

Nasty Women art exhibit

Each piece was restricted to 12” or less with a price tag under $100. By the end of the show all the artwork had been sold and the $50,000 they raised was donated to Planned Parenthood.

At the same time Indira Cesarine, who runs a lower Manhattan gallery named Untitled Space decided to organize the curated exhibition Uprise/Angry Women. Cesarine says, “I was in shock. I think a lot of people were…A lot of people in America right now are pretty much in shock, that we elected such a sexist.”

Angry Women art exhibit

Uprise/Angry Women had 1,400 submissions from more than 400 female artists. Ultimately 80 artists from around the world were included in the exhibition.

Another protest action by artists was the J20 Art Strike. It called for “Noncompliance on Inauguration Day.” The organizers asked for “No Work, No School, No Business. Museums. Galleries. Theaters. Concert Halls. Studios. Nonprofits. Art Schools. Close For The Day. Hit The Streets. Bring Your Friends. Fight Back.”

J20 Art Strike poster

Their call for Noncompliance garnered hundreds of supporters including many blue chip artists such as Mel Bochner, Hans Haacke, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Joyce Kozloff and Polly Apfelbaum.

This protest had mixed results. They were asking for a lot and it is still early in the Trump presidency. Across the nation, however, dozens of galleries and a few public institutions closed. Larger museums in major cities had either a modest response or no response. Although famous individual artists were willing to protest, the premier institutions that feature their work were not so eager to participate. Museum donors, board members, collectors and corporate sponsors are generally conservative.

Beyond these calls for collective resistance, individual artists have also expressed their anger and disgust about Donald Trump’s presidency. Here are two.

Richard Prince is an artist known for his paintings based on other people’s work. He appropriates items – images or written text – by photographing them and printing them on canvas and other materials. He then claims these second generation images as his own artwork. The most famous example is Prince’s series of cowboys based on Marlboro cigarette ads.

His work is controversial and Prince has been sued several times for copyright infringement. His work is also fashionable and highly sought after by contemporary collectors and celebrities.

In 2014 Prince received $36,000 from an agent who asked him to create an artwork from an Instagram image Ivanka Trump posted online. Prince agreed and produced the piece shown below. It is not clear that the agent was acting on behalf of Ms. Trump but she is known to be a collector of contemporary art and in another Instagram post she thanked Mr. Prince and said she loves the piece.

Richard Prince art piece of Ivanka Trump

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, Prince returned the $36,000 to the agent. He then issued a statement saying, “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This is fake art.” In a subsequent interview Prince stated, “It’s a way of me saying to them I don’t want my work in your possession. I don’t want anything to do with your family.”

Richard Prince’s disowning of this work of art may not have any impact on its value but his sentiments about the Trump family will always be part of the piece’s legacy.

Another famous artist who is angered by Trump’s presidency and not willing to just accept it is Christo. Readers of this blog will remember that last year we wrote about Christo’s recent large-scale installation titled The Floating Piers.

Each of Christo’s environmental installations requires years – even decades – of planning and complex preparation. Because he self-funds all aspects of every piece (and they each have budgets in the millions of dollars) he spends much of his time producing and selling artwork in order to raise the needed cash.

A project he has been working on for more than 20 years is titled Over the River. This piece would have silvery luminous fabric panels suspended like giant canopies placed at intervals over a 42 mile long stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Construction and installation of the panels are estimated to cost at least $50 million. Christo has already spent $15 million to get the project this far along in the development process.

Here is one of his composite drawings that imagines what the finished project might look like.

Christo project which he cancels as an anti-Trump statement

After the election of Donald Trump, Christo decided to abandon the project. He said, “…I never believed that Trump would be elected…” Later he added, “I am not excited about the project anymore.”

To those who know and follow his work this is an amazing turn of events. As part of his normal working process Christo always spends years meeting with – and winning the approval of – the people who might possibly be impacted by one of his installations. This laborious procedure is a valued part of his working process. He is used to tackling impossible odds and then persisting until there is a positive solution.

In an interview explaining his decision to abandon the project, the 81 year old Christo stated, “I came from a Communist country…I use my own money and my own work and my own plans because I like to be totally free. And here now, the federal government is our landlord. They own the land. I can’t do a project that benefits this landlord.”

Let me note here that Over the River is the last installation Christo collaborated on with his late wife Jeanne-Claude. For nearly all his career Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been creative partners working together on their monumental, time consuming projects. She died shortly after they finished The Gates, their installation in New York’s Central Park. After Jeanne-Claude’s death Christo completed their decades long project The Floating Piers and was in the final stages of working on Over the River. Cancelling this project was a particularly significant statement for Christo.

These are merely a few examples of the many visual artists all across our country who are appalled by Donald Trump’s election. We here at Design: A Beginner’s Handbook share their sentiments and will continue to report on the artworld’s response and resistance.

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