Art is all a matter of personality
[ Marcel Duchamp ]
Has there ever been a political figure as inescapable as Donald Trump?
Andres Serrano’s first multimedia installation blasts through the web of words and images that have blanketed America over the last several decades to present a portrait of the man as the sum of the objects that glorify his name. The Game: All Things Trump is a collection of over 1000 objects related to Donald Trump. Amassed from auctions, eBay and word of mouth, it includes 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. The artifacts are installed in a museological setting and as 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.
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, this 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 of these themes – sex, power, religion and mythology – come together in the figure of Donald Trump.
On one 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 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.