Essential Arts: Anonymous architect of fake Trump presidential library speaks
Aaaaand we’re back, from outer space, and just walked in to find you with that rad look upon your face ... I’m Carolina A. Miranda, a culture columnist at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential art and architecture news:
Spoofing the presidential library
With President Trump having lost the election (regardless of what he said in that rambling 46-minute video), the debate now moves to design: namely, which firm will design the Trump Presidential Library — if there is one.
Already this is the subject of joyously irreverent Twitter conjecture. Among the names pitched: bad bro Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (the guy who seems intent on master planning the planet even though no one ever asked him to) and L.A. real estate developer and Trump donor Geoff Palmer, who knows a thing or two about constructing gaudy carceral landscapes.
One scholar hilariously imagined that Trump’s library will be designed by the infrastructure and engineering firm AECOM, working off a “mood board” devised by Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society. Shubow is better known as the guy who keeps shoving Neoclassical architecture down everybody’s throat.
Thankfully, you need not imagine the Trump Presidential Library any longer, because an anonymous architect has done the work for you — and he or she has put the renderings online at djtrumplibrary.com. The design concept includes a “COVID Memorial” with reflecting pool, an “Alt-Right Auditorium” lined with Confederate flags and exhibitions such as “Tax Evasion 101” and the “Hall of Enablers.” The library’s suggested location: on the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz.
The designs, of course, are facetious. But in their presentation, they cheerfully skewer the visual language of architectural renderings, in which everything is bathed in glorious Vaseline-lens light. They also take down the breathless, propagandistic language of presidential libraries. Sample text: “The Wall of Criminality, funded completely by the state of Mexico, is one of Donald J. Trump’s greatest achievements. This exhibit chronicles Trump’s crusade against the many bad hombres he has crossed paths (and streams) with.”
The site was designed by a licensed New York City architect, with the assistance of a few friends who pitched in with writing and graphic design. The architect took time out of a busy pandemic schedule to answer a few questions about the design concepts — albeit anonymously, since, gags aside, this person would very much like to continue working in the field.
What were your aesthetic inspirations for the Trump library?
As a New Yorker, I have seen and experienced a lot of Trump’s buildings. We are not trying to copy his aesthetic. His aesthetic is extremely gauche. We don’t want to make everything gold plated. It’s mostly a glass volume, which is much more transparent than anything in his administration.
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What are some of the textures and materials you employed in your design proposal?
We designed it fairly starkly. It’s a very antiseptic sort of space. It’s glass and concrete ... But there are different finishes. For example, the Cor-Ten steel that we’ve encased the Alt-Right Auditorium in. Cor-Ten already looks beat up and rusted — and there’s no better material for people whose ideas were at an apex in the 1830s.
I was surprised that the design doesn’t contain any reference to Neoclassical architecture — say, an adjacent condo tower inspired by Nero’s Domus Aurea. Will there be Corinthian columns somewhere?
No, there will not. [Trump’s] buildings are very dull. So this is a simple volumetric massing that is very banal. The architecture should match the man.
Tell me about the building’s location in Nogales.
It’s 199 East International Street. If you click on the link, it goes directly to the [border] wall. We renamed it 1 MAGA Lane. The concept is to build the library into the wall, but zoning would probably preclude that. I don’t want a setback. I want the wall to be on the wall.
So you don’t want to build the wall. You want to take advantage of it structurally.
Absolutely. Waste not, want not.
Will the Trump Presidential Library contain any actual books?
That’s a question we get a lot. The first floor will have a criminal records room and we will keep some copies of “The Art of the Deal” around. But how do you design a library for someone who doesn’t read? That is the joke.
Now, on to the news...
Artistic freedoms in Cuba
At the end of last month, a group of artists staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana that drew an estimated 300 culture workers demanding free speech. In any other place, something like this might not stir much interest. But in Cuba it was historic: the largest peaceful demonstration since the 1959 revolution.
“I cannot emphasize enough that this kind of public protest, with hundreds of people standing outside a ministry for 14 hours, is unprecedented,” the Cuban American artist Coco Fusco told Brian Boucher at Artnet News.
The protest, which was led by the artist-activist group known as the San Isidro artists movement, was peaceful — with government officials even inviting some of them inside for a dialogue. But that tiny gesture doesn’t begin to solve some of the issues at stake. Among them: the 2018 statute known as Decree 349, a repressive law that gives the government the broad authority to shut down events that incorporate prohibited subject matter (such as pornography or violence) and requires government sponsorship for cultural events of any kind. (Hyperallergic has a good explainer.)
Over the years, this has resulted in the regular jailing and detention of a wide variety of regime critics, including the musician Denis Solís, who is serving an eight-month sentence for “contempt,” along with artists such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Tania Bruguera (who I interviewed after a similar detention in 2015).
Since the protest, things have gone south. The Cuban president has denounced the protesters, and artists such as Bruguera have been threatened by state security agents. In addition, government media has described the activists as “U.S. mercenaries” and “CIA stooges.” “It’s the same laughable excuse the Cuban dictatorship has been using for decades to quash any sign of free speech,” writes columnist Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. (His piece provides a good overview of the situation.)
In an open letter published on the arts website e-flux, Fusco says it’s time for U.S. artists and arts institutions to speak up: “I am asking Americans to stop pretending that your silence has no political consequences,” she writes. Artists such as Bruguera, she notes, are being targeted “precisely because they have been supported by American institutions.”
This could also benefit from a forceful political statement from the U.S. government and President-elect Joe Biden, notes Oppenheimer: “It’s time for Biden himself, President Trump and other world leaders to personally support Cuba’s artists and intellectuals. Nobody can be indifferent to their demands.”
Your thoughts on virtual art
Before the holidays, The Times’ Makeda Easter asked for your thoughts on experiencing art virtually during the pandemic. Well, the answers are back. Slightly more than half of the respondents to Easter’s informal survey said they were seeing shows less frequently during the pandemic. “The consensus?” she writes. “Some options are better than no options, but many lamented the loss of a shared, visceral experience of seeing art in person with others.”
There has been an upside, however: accessibility. “The low cost of tickets, the dodging of L.A. traffic, the ease of seeing work made abroad, the lack of dressing up” were among “the benefits of virtual shows.”
A generous composer
Times classical music critic Mark Swed goes local on his deep listening series with SoCal composer Lou Harrison’s “Suite for Violin With American Gamelan.” “No one was quite like Harrison in his rich application of Western music (particularly Elizabethan music and the early tuning systems of Baroque music) and the many Asian musics in which he became expert,” writes Swed. “At the time, that was outsider art, particularly in snotty East Coast circles. Now more than half the composers in Brooklyn are following in Harrison’s footsteps.”
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Need some more music? Last week, Swed brought a bit of radicalism to the mix with Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” — a work that distills angst “into a heightened state of dread and exhilaration.”
Plays and players
Times theater critic Charles McNulty tuned into the Ryan Murphy movie musical “The Prom” on Netflix. The story centers on a group of Broadway stars — played by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden — who try to rehabilitate their moribund careers by becoming LGTBQ activists. This takes the form of tooling out to Indiana to support a lesbian student who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. The film “sometimes seems of a piece with the shopping mall settings that are central to the film,” writes McNulty. “But what’s being glamorously sold is an embrace of difference.”
ICYMI, last week, McNulty spoke with stage director André Gregory on the occasion of the publication of his autobiographical first book, “This Is Not My Memoir.” “Impressionistic in its style, the book traces the outline of Gregory’s life with swift, graceful brushstrokes,” writes McNulty.
In the galleries
Missing your office holiday party? LACMA recently installed an outdoor sculpture by Alex Prager that brings a rather debauched one to life. The Times’ Deborah Vankin describes it as “‘The Office’ meets ‘Office Space.’”
Art critic Christopher Knight reports that there’s a story behind this story: It turns out the entire installation is a commission by ad agency Doyle Dane Bernach for Miller Lite. And the museum’s signage doesn’t exactly make the commercial relationship clear. “This ‘exhibition’ of Duane-Hanson-on-steroids is just a misleading slide into simple exploitation of bland mercantile entertainment,” writes Knight of the piece.
In the age of fake news, artist Alison Jackson makes fakes that become news — staging photo shoots with celebrity lookalikes that explore the fragile boundary between truth and fiction. Contributor Leah Ollman chats with the artist about her work, which is on view at NeueHouse in Hollywood. “I don’t want that passivity,” Jackson says. “I want to aggravate the viewer, to make them wake up by looking at my images.”
With the threat level on high for COVID-19, The Times’ Matt Cooper rounds up all of the holiday events you can experience from the safety of your car, including various drive-through Christmas experiences and a drive-in version of the opera “Carmen” staged by Opera Santa Barbara.
Plus, he comes through with an additional 19 virtual cultural picks, including a global webcast by New York’s Carnegie Hall in honor Beethoven’s 250th birthday featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.
Irina Antonova, the art historian who turned the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow into a major cultural institution, is dead at 98.
Miguel Algarín, a professor who was also a founder of New York’s beloved Nuyorican Poets Café, an important performance and gathering space, has died at 79.
In other news
— “Trying to stay informed on Parler is like trying to divine the news by reading your grandparents’ junk mail.” I spent some quality time on the right-wing social media platform.
— Photographer Richard Frishman on the architectural ghosts of segregation.
— Ciarán Finlayson has a good essay on Dawoud Bey’s photographs of Underground Railroad sites.
— Critic Alexandra Lange on the banality of romance novel décor.
— A fascinating story on the Mexican vessel that appears in Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas.”
— Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks says it’s time for a Dr. Fauci for the arts.
— Art Basel is getting an infusion of Murdoch money.
— Sarah Rafael García explains why she resigned from the California Arts Council.
— An open letter signed by more than 30 art and design professionals is calling on the Museum of Modern Art to remove architect Philip Johnson’s name from various official titles due to white supremacist views he held early in his career.
— Georgina Adams says it’s time for catalog raisonnés to join the digital age. All I gotta say is: co-sign.
— An eight-mile long series of rock paintings uncovered in the Colombian Amazon reveal a wondrous array of Ice Age beasts.
And last but not least ...
I’m definitely here for brutalist coffee. But I feel like I’d need a Béton brut concrete cup to drink it.
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