Artists Risingby Kathy Brew
Art Rising took place at the Trump Tower Public Garden on June 14th, which happens to be Donald Trump’s birthday and Flag Day. It was the latest in a series of actions that have been using this not-so-known public space as a “living lab” to mobilize people around the risks of the Trump presidency—particularly his plan to slash federal funding for the arts.
The event was organized by Take Trump Tower, and curated by Caterina Bartha. As stated in the program notes: “The artists invite you to enjoy the performances and provoke Trump on his birthday inside his home.”
The crowd was mainly a mix of artists and activists, combined with tourists who were coming to the building because it is the home of the POTUS, including some Trump supporters who happened upon the event, along with some Trump Tower security folks hovering on the sidelines, observing with scrutiny (not to mention the presence of police and secret service members as you enter the building).
Things kicked off at noon with Brick x Brick, a group of women dressed in black and white outfits that included text of many of Trump’s misogynist quotes, standing firm as a wall/backdrop for the hour-long event. Lucy Sexton from Dancenoise, who performs as The Factress, was the emcee/host and welcomed Jimmy Van Bramer, the City Council majority leader and chairman of the council’s cultural affairs committee, who spoke of the importance of government funding and saving the NEA. Then the performances began.
Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir gave a fiery sermon, invoking the names of Allen Ginsburg, Pablo Neruda, Nina Simone, among other artists, while the choir gave the grand finale to the sermon with a protest song. Martha Wilson, founder of Franklin Furnace, who has impersonated figures such as Barbara Bush, Tipper Gore, and Nancy Reagan, channeled Trump, complete with an orange wig and red tie, giving a kind of history lesson of how she (as artist/art administrator) has seen the relationship of art and politics evolve during the last 50 years. And then she switched to her Trump persona:
Of course I want to de-fund the NEA—I want to eliminate the competition! And talk about audience response: Did you see how my approval ratings went up after I bombed Syria? And the applause I got in the Rose Garden when I pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord?
Artist Marshall Reese, part of the collaborative duo Ligorano/Reese, showed up with the most recent offering from their line of Pure Products: Dress for Distress Flag Pins, which are upside-down American flag pins. (The idea was triggered by an incident when Sean Spicer wore his flag pin the wrong way at a press briefing.)
The pin was intentionally launched on Flag Day and Reese came to pin the faux Donald as a way to underscore an urgent message that the country is in crisis, that we need to resist—“a symbol of a new kind of patriotism in the age of Trump.”
There were faux secret service agents lurking in the background while artist Pat Oleszko was off to the side in a performative installation that was a take-off of Marina Abramovic’s 2012 performance at MoMA, The Artist is Present. Except here, Oleszko, dressed as Lady Liberty, was seated in a chair with a sign reading, The Artists are Presceint (note misspelling), eyes locked in a stare-down contest with a Humpty-Dumpty like Trump effigy, and a faux cross-dressed Kellyanne Conway hovering behind.
For those who truly wish to honor and protect the values that America stands for, there will need to be many more risings of resistance. Stay tuned: the folks involved with Take Trump Tower have a calendar with upcoming events featuring teach-ins, demonstrations, and much more.
KATHY BREW is an independent filmmaker, artist, writer, curator, and educator. She teaches in graduate programs at The New School and The School of Visual Arts.