Artist Andres Serrano debuts ‘The Game: All Things Trump’
On Thursday, April 11, 2019, artist Andres Serrano debuted The Game: All Things Trump — a collection of over 1000 objects related to Donald Trump. Presented on the 30th Anniversary of the 1989 Culture Wars, Serrano’s first multimedia installation blasts through the web of words and images that have blanketed America over the last decades to present a portrait of the man as the sum of the objects that glorify his name.
In collaboration with a/political and ArtX, and set in a former nightclub in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district, the exhibition is on view at 409 West 14th Street, New York, open to the public from April 12 — June 9, 2019.
Andres Serrano, best known for his work Piss Christ (1987), a now-infamous picture of a plastic crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine, was attacked in 1989 as betraying Christian values while Piss Christ was on view at The Virginia Museum.
The artist subsequently became a key figure in an important historic dialogue on arts funding and governmental intervention in the realm of artistic freedom-of-expression — later dubbed the “Culture Wars”. Thirty years later, the struggle about questions of authorship and censorship continues, with Trump’s recent request, once again, to defund NEA, NEH, and IMLS — a standard for Republican presidents playing to their conservative and Christian base.
Amassed from auctions, eBay and word of mouth, The Game: All Things Trump features such objects as Trump hotel and casino souvenirs, Trump branded merchandise, sports memorabilia, slot machines, posters and signed magazine covers and photographs. It also documents some of his less successful ventures, among them Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks and Trump Shuttle. There is even a Trump University diploma and a Trump deodorant.
The artifacts are installed with a museological approach, carefully catalogued and labeled as the items in any natural history museum. As is so often the case in our information era, the mass of all this data ultimately overwhelms any single interpretation. We are left with a man who is as slippery as he is ubiquitous.
Trump has been hailed as the quintessential postmodern president. His blithe dismissal of commonly accepted truths, his embrace of alternative facts, his obsessive cultivation of his image, his transformation of politics into theater and his confidence in the malleability of reality seem to confirm Jean Baudrillard’s observation that “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none.” As such he becomes the perfect subject for a dissection of consequences of our increasingly fraught relationship with meaning and authenticity. And a material portrait created from the building blocks he has used to construct his own identity seems an appropriate way to express the void within.
The germ of this project lies in Serrano’s 2004 photo essay, America. That work conjured the diversity of the United States through photographs of its educators, showgirls, heroin addicts, public servants, migrant workers, and socialites. Included was a photograph of a certain yellow haired entrepreneur who peers quizzically at the viewer surrounded by an aura of golden light. In The Game: All Things Trump, a large portrait of Trump has pride of place, along with a three dimensional, eleven-foot sign from Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino that is composed of the word “EGO”.
The Game: All Things Trump shares the archival impulse that characterizes such massive projects as Gerhard Richter’s Atlas, Hanne Darboven’s Cultural History 1880–1983 and Thomas Hirshhorn’s monuments to his favorite philosophers. Like those compendiums of diverse materials, The Game: All Things Trump presents an open-ended collection whose meanings will be as various as the visitors who encounter it.
The project also reflects the indexical impulse found in all Serrano’s work. Whether exploring the dead (The Morgue), body fluids and instruments of torture or portraits of Klansmen, homeless people and Catholic clergy, Serrano has always created sets of images that illuminate eternal themes. With The Game: All Things Trump, all these themes — sex, power, religion and mythology — come together in the figure of Donald Trump.
Although Serrano’s portrayal of Donald Trump is not officially sanctioned, it is an acknowledgment of the extent to which a media-savvy public interprets people through their possessions. Personal belongings are clues that tantalize with the promise of secret knowledge.
From another perspective, such objects also take on the aura of sacred relics. Because they are imbued with the spirit of the absent owner, they gain a value vastly out of proportion to their material identity. To see them, or even better, to own them, is to commune with the gods. Collections like these remind us that celebrity worship has become one of the religions of our time.
On the simplest level The Game: All Things Trump is a multifaceted portrait of Donald Trump. Among the oldest items is a yearbook photo from Trump’s years as a fresh-faced cadet in the New York Military Academy. Other objects attest to the careful construction of his personas as master builder, tabloid sex symbol, businessman extraordinaire, reality TV star, and now, ‘Leader of the Free World.’
A Rock and Roll soundtrack adds a sense of rebellion and grounds the collection in the Baby Boomer era that produced the man. With objects that go back to the 1960s, The Game: All Things Trump underscores how long Trump has been embedded in our consciousness as an embodiment of a particular interpretation of The American Dream.
If The Game: All Things Trump provides a composite portrait of the man who is now President of the United States, it is also a Rorschach test that tells us about ourselves. In his obsession with his own image Trump provides a mirror for America’s fascination with wealth, success, glamour, power and celebrity. By referring in his title to The Game, Serrano gives a nod to one of the various board games inspired by the Trump persona.
But the title also underscores the role played by competition in all aspects of American life. Economics, entertainment, sports, politics and even art are all construed as contests in which, as the motto of one Trump game has it, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you win.”
Trump’s America has been a long time in the making. The Game: All Things Trump suggests that, willingly or not, we are all caught up in its play.