‘I Have a Strong Stomach’: Artist Andres Serrano Explains Why He Spent $200,000 on Trump Steaks and Other Trump Memorabilia on eBay
He even spent nearly $2,000 on a piece of the President’s wedding cake.
Over the past year or so, West 14th Street in New York has become home to a number of pop-up installations, from the Museum of Illusions to the KGB Espionage Museum. So you’d be forgiven for mistaking “The Game: All Things Trump” as another Instagram trap, this time dedicated to the president of the United States.
In fact, this multimedia installation by artist Andres Serrano is the result of a year’s worth of work, during which the artist spent close to $200,000 on eBay and at other auction houses buying up all things Donald Trump. The show includes everything from Trump Steaks, which were sold briefly at the Sharper Image, to 1980s tabloid covers to branded products from the real estate magnate’s casinos. And of course, there are the infamous, red Make America Great Again hats.
Serrano has arrayed this bizarre assortment, numbered at close to 1,000 objects, in his first-ever installation, on view at a former nightclub.
“Our culture has allowed Donald Trump to take over,” the artist told artnet News during a private preview of the exhibition, which opens this evening. “It’s no accident that Donald Trump became president. You could say that Donald Trump has been campaigning all his life.”
The show’s centerpiece is a 2004 portrait of Trump that Serrano shot at Trump Tower on the original set of The Apprentice. It was one of the last photos from Serrano’s “America” series, which depicted more than 100 people from all walks of life.
”I chose him because he was part of the American Dream, but also because he was Donald Trump, and even in 2004 that meant something,” said Serrano.
Serrano’s PR team sent Trump an invitation to the opening, during which a special orange juice cocktail will be served in his honor. As of press time, he had not RSVP’d.
Taken all together, the display is overwhelming. From the 11-foot-tall, revolving “Ego” sign from Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino (it cost Serrano $7,000, and is the most expensive item on display) to the diminutive souvenir cakelet given to guests at Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania Trump (just under $2,000), there is a tremendous amount to see. There’s a case full of Trump ties, the flight manual for the B-727 jet used by the Trump Shuttle, and even a diploma from Trump University.
Most of the items were purchased online, occasionally from sellers who would recognize Serrano’s name. “Sometimes they’d email me and ask, ‘are you Andres Serrano the photographer?’ And I’d write back, ‘no, I’m Andres Serrano the artist,'” he recalled.
Serrano, of course, skyrocketed to public attention 30 years ago, when a museum exhibition of his infamous Piss Christ (1987) became a target in the Culture Wars over government funding of art that offended conservatives—a controversy that still baffles the artist.
“As a Christian artist, it was normal for me to use the symbols of my faith,” he said. “Our bodily fluids may be ugly, but they’re necessary; they’re life’s vital fluids. And when Christ died on the cross, all of those fluids came out of him.”
The idea for the current show came to Serrano about a year ago. To bring his vision to life, Serrano’s teamed up with a/political, an organization dedicated to helping artists produce socially engaged work. (The show’s venue will soon become ArtX, a new private members’ club.)
“I pitched it to people at museums who I’ve known for many years, but they acted like they didn’t understand what I was talking about,” said Serrano, who hopes the installation will eventually find a home in a museum or a major collection. “Trump is very polarizing. People in the art world, they don’t want to consider him, except from an anti-Trump stance, and I’m not that kind of artist. I don’t take sides.”
Not that Serrano doesn’t have strong feelings about our nation’s president. “I don’t let my opinions interfere with my ability to work,” he explained. “When I went into the morgue and I was photographing shit, it was hard to take, especially with the smell… I have a strong stomach and I know how to be professional.”
Andres Serrano’s “The Game: All Thing Trump” is on view at 409 West 14th Street, New York, April 12–June 9, 2019.
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