“Symbolizing, like, just how far this nation has fallen ..."
August 7, 2019 8:15 AM   Subscribe

The Surreal Story of a Trump-Loving Artist’s War With the Smithsonian. In which an evangelical artist turns pro se litigant in his quest to display his Trump mural at the National Portrait Gallery.
posted by Countess Elena (43 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been trying to think of a term for the reality-distorting effect Trump has on his followers, and I think I've finally got it: Herr Goggles.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:37 AM on August 7, 2019 [13 favorites]


Dunning von Kruger
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2019 [12 favorites]


”I am the director of the National Portrait Gallery,” she said, according to Raven. “Your application will go no further. You can appeal my decision all you want.”
Oh no
Trump appeared in the door. “I brought my Bible!” he declared, then took a seat beside a dumbstruck Raven.
Oh no
The week she arrived in DC, Sajet distributed an internal list of values. One edict commanded never to tell a lie
Oh no
Forgoing a lawyer, he typed up the lawsuit himself.
Oh no
After he filed suit, though, the Smithsonian deleted the phrases.
Oh no
The Portrait Gallery saw a familiar picture of a garish outsider from New York, laying siege to a centuries-old institution he knew nothing about. Raven saw a case study of rootless globalists falling into possession of a national treasure, wielding the levers of power to lock out true patriots. Neither was entirely wrong.
Excuse me???

I would have put the portrait in the folk art section of the Smithsonian American Art Museum as a temporary exhibit during inauguration. Clearly the NPS director should never, ever have called him. But the author of this piece gives too much latitude to this guy just because he’s intriguing.
posted by sallybrown at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2019 [22 favorites]


One recent portrait was dedicated to a victim of an ISIS beheading: a seven-foot-tall, decapitated, smiling head.

...

One page contained a blaze of exclamation points.

...

From the start, something didn’t add up with Raven.

...

Oh, it's a point and laugh story about a crazy, got it.
posted by Melismata at 8:49 AM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


He's not 'intriguing', he's a bad artist who's trying to drum up some promotional controversy. He'd be vastly overpriced at a dime a dozen.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2019 [18 favorites]


Funny just earlier I was reading that a photo portrait of Beyoncé is being acquired by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Far more deserving from all points of view!
posted by bitteschoen at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


They settled in Elmira, New York, near Ithaca.

And yet at the same time a universe away from it...
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Why the hell did she call him? That’s like striking up a conversation with a deranged street preacher.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2019 [18 favorites]


So I hate to say this but some portrait of Trump will end up in the National Portrait Gallery eventually. They have all of the presidents there, even Nixon.
posted by octothorpe at 9:09 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


The idea that someone who supports Trump, despite believing him to be a sinner in the eyes of God, is doing it to fight for bipartisanship is utter bullshit

The distinctive thing about Trump that makes Evangelical Christians forgive him his manifest sins is that he's a white nationalist. Sure, "he's got his problems", but racism comes before God every time. Any article that doesn't even attempt to address why a supposedly intelligent man would attach himself so firmly to Trump is just more "both sides" bullshit.
posted by howfar at 9:09 AM on August 7, 2019 [14 favorites]


So I hate to say this but some portrait of Trump will end up in the National Portrait Gallery eventually. They have all of the presidents there, even Nixon.

Maybe they can go the Disneyland route and paint over a portrait of Hillary Clinton that they had prepared in advance (Bravo TV, whose tagline for the article is pretty spot-on: "Is this a conspiracy? Or just an ugly robot?")
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 AM on August 7, 2019


So I hate to say this but some portrait of Trump will end up in the National Portrait Gallery eventually.

Well, at least it should meet some usual standards to qualify as an actual portrait and more faithful representation of his awful mug and not a giant fanwank based on a tweaked Twitter profile pic.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:17 AM on August 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


What did the Washington art world make of all this? In conversations, few at the Smithsonian or elsewhere were acutely concerned about the Raven case. What lingered, though, was something more disquieting: a sense that, though they had dealt with the first Julian Raven, sooner or later they would meet the next dozen.

I just...what a nightmare for museum staff everywhere. There are always kooky people who want to donate or sell to museum collections, but the thought of highly motivated, Trumpian kooky people is another level.

A difficult thing about working in curatorial/donor relations is that decisions are often kind of squishy and intuitive. To be forced to articulate why something doesn't meet your criteria, to someone who has decided to be hostile and aggressive about it and argue with you at every turn, is a level of hell.
posted by witchen at 9:18 AM on August 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


"I'm sorry, we can't accept any art that sucks"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2019 [16 favorites]


Another amusing thing is that video of trump with a bald eagle really isn't flattering for trump. He's clearly afraid of it and the eagle isn't pleased about being there. So this is the source for this dude's religious vision.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 AM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


The coincidence that the 'older' thread link at the bottom of this one reads "straight up self-insert fanfiction" is delightful.
posted by deeker at 9:26 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think there's value in the President selecting their own portrait for the Gallery. What they choose says volumes; let their choice talk to history. Keep some size rules but let them go nuts.
posted by achrise at 9:28 AM on August 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


Why the hell did she call him? That’s like striking up a conversation with a deranged street preacher.

That's what I find weirdest about this. Raven and the judge both seem to think it was just to insult him, and while I don't doubt that she had insulting thoughts about the portrait, taking time out of your day, especially during a time when there had to be hundreds of crank-ass submissions to be included in the Trump inauguration show, to randomly select one particularly bad application and essentially prank call him is bizarre to me. If it wasn't part of the court case, I'd doubt it happened at all. This is exactly what form letters are for.
posted by Copronymus at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Uncle Sam the Bald Eagle in that video 2020
posted by snortasprocket at 9:48 AM on August 7, 2019


but the thought of highly motivated, Trumpian kooky people is another level.

The good news is that many, if not most, of them are unlikely to escalate to actual violence.
posted by acb at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2019


The religious symbolism ran thick. A Statue of Liberty walked on water. It faced a rising sun, the white sun of the East. Three white dots shone in Trump’s pupils, for the divine triune

...what religion is this, exactly? That's some fucked up cult of personality bullshit mixed with odious nationalism, not religion. The statue of liberty walking on water, for fuck's sake. The only manner in which that is "religious imagery" is that it's outrageous sacrilege.
posted by Dysk at 10:04 AM on August 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


This may have been a bad dream, but I remember being whisked deep into a casino (Trump's World Fair?) from the Atlantic City boardwalk by a moving walkway, and above the escalator I saw a 20 x 10 foot mural of the Orange One surrounded by busy working people as if he was a populist hero.

I can't find an image of this mural online, but it was pretty bad, too. Hopefully it is no more.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The only manner in which that is "religious imagery" is that it's outrageous sacrilege.

Americanity.

Two hundred years from now the anthropological studies of the state religion of the Holy American Empire are going to be fascinating.
posted by happyroach at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm a woman, and the whole time I was reading the article I kept thinking about how this is exactly why women ghost or ignore or find a million indirect ways to try to say no to men rather than saying it directly, writ large. That she called him really is interesting to me.
posted by trig at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2019 [17 favorites]


What lingered, though, was something more disquieting: a sense that, though they had dealt with the first Julian Raven, sooner or later they would meet the next dozen.

I imagine the reason she called him in the first place is because she mistakenly thought she could disarm him. The form letter would likely have generated the same response; someone doesn't do a messianic portrait of Trump and just accept a flat no.

She probably figured, "I don't know if I can outright stop his zeal, but perhaps I can deflect him, and he'll find a different gallery." And well, he certainly did, so that bit is right.

The problem is that it's hard to tell someone outright, "your art sucks," and that's what is true about it. The symbolism is heavy-handed, the artistic skill something you might see in your geography textbook.
posted by explosion at 10:27 AM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is an object lesson in why it is a good idea to give the most anodyne rejections possible. I too wondered why Sajet called him, and I wonder if it is perhaps that she intuited a form-letter rejection wouldn't be the end of it with Raven, and that she could somehow smooth ruffled feathers more effectively with a personal call.
posted by adamrice at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


WRT Sajet's phone call:

(The Portrait Gallery would not comment on the conversation.)

Sajet doesn't deny its existence, at least in this account, but the only real account that we get of it is from Raven. She may have simply thought that he was enthusiastic, if no better than a competent but strictly average van airbrush artist, and was trying to let him down gently.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


What happens when you give an idiot attention.
posted by prepmonkey at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


He has Florida as thin as Baja California. He neutered the Gadsden Purchase. Not very attentive to details.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:55 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


The week she arrived in DC, Sajet distributed an internal list of values. One edict commanded never to tell a lie; another reminded staff that “racism is a social construct.”

Uh what? "Race is a social construct" is a central argument of the postmodern left; "racism is a social construct" is either wrong or tautological or a typo.
posted by nicwolff at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2019


But what he wanted most was a showing at the National Portrait Gallery.

Yes, as do most portraiture artists.

Then its director turned him away.

Yes, as most artists are.

Director Kim Sajet's exceedingly kind and generous choice to reply to his application was clearly a mistake—and likely done out of a fear that now pervades almost all liberal institutions: a fear of being seen as unwelcoming (or "anti free spech") towards the American right.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 11:51 AM on August 7, 2019 [11 favorites]


I have seen this painting before, and read a little bit about Raven, but I'd mostly forgotten about it and him and my initial thought was Jon McNaughton, who is maybe doing a better job of just continuing to steadily capitalize on his own "Thomas Kincade meets Ben Garrison" style.

Also made me think of Robert Cenedella just for the outsider artist sues institutions narrative.

I imagine the reason she called him in the first place is because she mistakenly thought she could disarm him.

This is where my mind went, too. Website moderator isn't national museum director or anything, but I have managed to talk myself step by step into a couple of in retrospect self-inflicted Bad Idea attempts to preempt a difficult situation with someone only to have that turn into way more of A Thing than just offering a terse nope or tacit refusal likely would have. You can just set up some very dumb dominoes for yourself sometimes if you're not careful.
posted by cortex at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


the artistic skill something you might see in your geography textbook.

?
posted by aspersioncast at 1:43 PM on August 7, 2019


By that I mean, not technically terrible, but just banal and rote. The sort of art where you need a painting of some pilgrims and early settlers and it does the job. No one's saying, "wow, this is abjectly awful," but they're also not saying, "wow, this belongs in a gallery!"
posted by explosion at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


the overwhelming sense of entitlement and grievance and "right" to force others to fall in line among trumpists is rivaled only by the importance and emphasis placed on them by media.
posted by wibari at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


From Rare Historical Photos, The headquarters of Mussolini's Italian Fascist Party, 1934.

Add the appropriate orange hairstyle, replace the repetitive “SI SI...” (“YES YES...’”) background with “MAGA MAGA...” and you have an impressive portrait suitable for all political occasions. Employ the Duce’s same election procedures, and you’ve got a sure winner:
...propaganda for one of the two plebiscite elections held during the Fascist Regime, where electors didn’t vote for individual parties (there wasn’t any but the Fascist one), neither for single candidates, but just voted “Yes” or “No” to a single list of candidates presented by the Duce himself.

The voting procedure used two ballots and two envelopes; the yes ballot was in the colors of the Italian flag with fascist symbols, while the no ballot was a white sheet. The voter had to place the ballots in envelopes, put his chosen ballot in the ballot box and return the discarded one to the voting supervisors, de facto allowing them to check what each person had voted. The list put forward was ultimately approved by 99.84% of voters.
It’s a deal the National Portrait Gallery cannot refuse.
posted by cenoxo at 6:16 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


This piece is really interesting.

Now that the work has been rejected, and displayed, and critiqued and analysed and written about, it's repositioned.

Yes its outsider art, folk art, but also has now transcended its origins and become something new and changed from its original position- if only by virtue of the various gazes levelled at it.

Yes, its trite, and twee and really very mediocre- but it is now more than it was when it started: in the same way that Thomas Kinkade (TM 'The Painter of Light') has become something more than just twee and mediocre (although it is undoubtedly super high fructose twee) because of its mass marketing, kind of verging into Warhol like territory of mass consumption, repetition and myth.

Yes, this piece is also propaganda- but its a tremendously accurate record of what a very large swathe of the non-art-world population consider to be art- its symbolism is attainable (although terribly confused) and is meaningful to many and its technically reasonably proficient - (perhaps the most important defining characteristic for many).

A non-art-world person can look at it and find some sort of meaning and value in it. An art world doyenne may look at it and see the crumbling of an empire, the rise of fascism, the history of post war propaganda and the sad gloss of mass market dollar store mediocrity.

But its art either way and worthy of display.
posted by Plutocratte at 9:18 PM on August 7, 2019


It’s already on display for all the internet to gaze upon and has sullied far more eyeballs than necessary.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:22 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


"...more faithful representation of his awful mug and not a giant fanwank based on a tweaked Twitter profile pic"
Seriously though, what is more a faithful representation of Trump than that?

It's hideous, and perfect.
posted by krisjohn at 12:04 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


But its art either way and worthy of display.

Sure, in contexts relevant to what it is. In an institution like the National Portrait Gallery, maybe not so much. Kinda like how, say, punk or metal are absolutely valid artistic/musical expressions, but that doesn't mean they're relevant for the traditional concert hall.
posted by Dysk at 4:20 AM on August 8, 2019


The guy would make a killing putting it on t-shirts and selling it at Trump rallies. And now he probably will.

I've seen worse art on t-shirts, but most of it was worn ironically. There is no irony with these people.
posted by lordrunningclam at 5:21 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's hideous, and perfect.

"He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet somehow I cannot look away."
posted by e1c at 8:58 AM on August 8, 2019


Yes, this piece is also propaganda- but its a tremendously accurate record of what a very large swathe of the non-art-world population consider to be art- its symbolism is attainable (although terribly confused) and is meaningful to many and its technically reasonably proficient - (perhaps the most important defining characteristic for many).

That's very, very similar to one of the arguments the Sad and Rabid Puppies were making about the Hugo Awards. They claimed that the latest Hard Man Making Hard Decisions While Fighting Alien Greeblies piece of Milfic was the art that the mass audiences were looking for, and so authors like Larry Correa and John Del Arroz were entitled to Hugo Awards no matter what the actual Hugo Award voters thought.

Similarly to Raven, they didn't accept the judgements of the "Corrupt Elites" and tried various propaganda campaigns and dirty trics to either win an award or discredit the Hugo's entirely.

So it's an interesting thing that different sets of conservative creators both feel entitled to acclaim simply because they made something, and attack the "elites" they feel are keeping them from their rightful due.
posted by happyroach at 7:24 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


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