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Visual Arts

The Art World Shares Blame for Trump's Rise to Power

Museumgoers take in Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog (Blue)." (Tom Ipri / Flickr)(CC-BY-SA)

Museumgoers take in Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Blue).” (Tom Ipri / Flickr)(CC-BY-SA)

Here’s a hypothesis that ought to raise some eyebrows — and hackles — in the rarefied realm of avant-garde art. According to artist, Artenol magazine founder and, in this instance, Time magazine columnist Alex Melamid, those who have pushed and bought works by the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst or Jean-Michel Basquiat (and presumably Koons, Hirst and Basquiat themselves) are partly to blame for making a President Trump possible.

How so? “Trump is the perfect avatar of the culture we created,” Melamid writes, before expounding in further detail:

Trump has a child-like narcissism, a Warholian appetite for publicity —characteristics that have long been associated with avant-garde artists like myself. When Sarah Palin noted that, “Everything about Donald Trump’s campaign, it’s avant-garde” — she was overstating his originality.

In the arts, infantilism has been an end in itself for generations. The pioneering poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara wrote in 1936 that his movement, Dada, “was born of a revolt that was shared by all adolescents.” Picasso made a similar boast about his artistic progress: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Recent artists have taken the idea further. Jeff Koons’ “Play-Doh,” a gigantic sculptured pile of the familiar childhood substance, has been dignified by the New York Times’ Roberta Smith as an “almost certain masterpiece.” (Koons also just released a new sculpture in Rockefeller Center; it is a balloon.) Cy Twombly’s pieces look as if they were made by a four-year-old; Howard Hodgkin’s are hardly more sophisticated. Looking at the work of Warhol’s protégé Jean-Michel Basquiat, hailed by many as the greatest artist of the last fifty years, one might be forgiven for assuming it’s the product of a disturbed nine-year-old — and a lot of parents will tell you that nine is a bad age, destructive and freewheeling, in a peculiarly American sense.

Included in Melamid’s takedown is the cultural offal that is the superhero movie franchise, as well as some prophetic words from none other than Andrew Breitbart. No mention, however, of Trump’s own masterpiece, “The Art of the Deal.”

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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