This Is the Art That Mattered From the 2016 Presidential Election
We're far from "Hope."
When you think of the most iconic recent election art, you probably think of Shepard Fairey’s Hope graphic for Obama from 2008, which created a color palette and starry-eyed aesthetic that have become political cliché. Election 2016’s most visible artistic expressions, by contrast, have been notable for just how little of this hopeful spirit they have channeled.
“This is absolutely nasty, nastier than anything I have seen before,” Ken Rudin, an expert in political memorabilia, told the Economist earlier this week.
And so, the art orbiting this campaign has instead hearkened back to another inspiration, the Obama Joker graphic that became the right-wing’s viral rejoinder to Hope in 2009, a gutter bucket, trollish meme. The visual language of this election cycle is distinguished by a relative lack of positive representations of the candidates (a point I made recently on the BBC show “The Cultural Frontline”)—though savagely anti-Trump art has been by far the most visible.
Below, a final poll of the art that made the news this campaign cycle: Pro-Clinton, Pro-Trump, Anti-Clinton, Anti-Trump, and Undecided:
Carrie Mae Weems, The Power of Your Vote
Probably the most celebrated artist to make art specifically for the Clinton campaign, Carrie Mae Weems offers up a simple concept: audio of Barack Obama (specifically his September 18 address to the Congressional Black Caucus), overlaid over images of the streets of New York, in all their diversity.
“Democracy is hanging in the balance, and there is only one choice—Hillary Clinton,” the artist told the Clinton campaign’s official website.
Wendy White, HRC Shirt
Spotted by Andrew Russeth: New York painter Wendy White’s image of the Democratic candidate at Dem Jam 2016, a fundraiser in Greenpoint, made with help on T-shirt production from Kayrock Screenprinting. It pairs a cartoon rainbow—a motif for White—with Clinton’s image as Wellesley valedictorian, back when she spoke for her cohort by declaring that they were “searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.”
Deborah Kass, Vote Hillary
Even if the central image is a snarling Trump, the title and inscription at the bottom leaves no doubt that this belongs in the pro-Hillary column. Kass, celebrated for her feminist riffs on Warhol, here draws on the Pop artist’s 1972 graphic for George McGovern, which featured the image of a clown-hued Richard Nixon with the slogan “Vote McGovern.”
Molly Smith, I Feel Like Hillz
This isn’t just an artwork, but a full-blown line of merchandise, with its own online store—though it has also made an appearance as an “I Feel Like Hillz” street art campaign. Smith has been also selling the stencil set.
“The reason women are afraid to be like Hillary is fear of what other people are going to say about us,” Smith told Fusion. “But—you’re going to say I’m a bitch? Okay, so what. I am. Hillary’s been called everything under the sun, and she’s going to be our president.”
In the final week before the election, this billboard-sized crocheted banner was draped over a real billboard near the Holland Tunnel, courtesy of Mana Urban Arts Initiative and Olek, the maven of crochet art.
Art Wing Conspiracy, Think Different
The name “Art Wing Conspiracy” is a garbled reference to Clinton’s famous quote about a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” in case you didn’t catch it.
The group of anonymous street artists describes itself as “didicated [sic] to the downfall of cultural Marxism in media and the arts,” a cause it attempted to further with these cutting-edge posters riffing off of the Apple “Think Different” ad campaign that was discontinued some 14 years ago, in effect making the case for Trump as a very, very dated product.
Lucian Wintrich et al, “#DaddyWillSaveUs”
What does it say that the show that billed itself as the “first pro-Trump art show” featured a bunch of people who are not really artists? Instead, it was a collection of alt-right para-celebrities: organizer Lucian Wintrich, with his non-sequitur “Twinks for Trump” series; hate-mongering Brit Milo Yiannopoulos, smearing blood all over pictures of murder victims; and twerpy pharma baron Martin Shkreli, selling a single pill in a box as a hilarious commentary on the fact that he actually did jack up the price of AIDS medicine.
All in all, the vibe of this kind-of, sort-of art show can be described as half Banksy-on-a-bad-day, half Rush Limbaugh’s insecure little brother. The pay-to-enter fundraiser, held at Wallplay, a rental gallery, ended up being only half full, but it did get a lot of media attention—with the unintentional result being that any sincere pro-Trump art out there is buried beneath it on Google.
Scott LoBaido, Freedom of Speech
Staten Islander Sam Pirozzolo put up a giant, American-flag themed T (for Trump) on his lawn; someone burned it down. So New York artist Scott LoBaido—previously an ABC News “Person of the Week” for his “unabashed affection for the flag”—decided to make a statement, erecting an event bigger American-flag themed T on Pirozzolo’s lawn, and christening it Freedom of Speech.
Anonymous, Don’t Say…
From the moment her campaign officially launched in April 2015, Clinton was dogged by these black-and-white posters by an anonymous street artist, with dozens appearing around her Brooklyn Heights HQ. The campaign featured Clinton’s face with the words “Don’t Say…” followed by various descriptors, a references, as Cait Munro noted, to a letter a group of Clinton supporters sent to various news outlets warning them against “coded sexism” in words like “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident.”
Lushsux, Clinton in a swimsuit mural
Lushsux, the Melbourne street artist, may be best described as a “graffiti troll.” The ultimate politics behind his many provocations are unclear, though the obvious thread is a degrading impulse towards women—so we put his unflattering mural of Hillary Clinton in a bathing suit (later painted over with a burqa after complaints) in the Anti-Clinton column.
Lushsux also made a topless mural of Melania Trump with the slogan “I’m With Her.” His current practice emcompasses painting images of alt-right meme Pepe the Frog on women’s butts.
Sabo, The Walking Dead
Conservative street artist Sabo is known for lampooning Hollywood liberals. His output during the election has encompassed a variety of caricatures of Hillary, some more coherent than others. His poster The Walking Dead invokes Negan, the nightmarish, baseball-bat wielding strongman of the AMC series, and the right-wing’s fever dream view of Clinton as a totalitarian left-wing dictator-in-waiting (instead of the figure “occupying from the center-left to the center-right” that she avowedly is).
Anthony Scioli, Naked Hillary
This sculpture of a bare-breasted, cloven-hooved Hillary Clinton suckling a Wall Street banker caused a fight in the streets when it appeared in October as a rejoinder to the naked Trump sculptures that had appeared across the country (see below).
Sarah Levy, Whatever
Portland-based artist Sarah Levy made the first major piece of viral Trump art with Whatever, a painting of the grimacing candidate made in her own menstrual blood, after he implied Megyn Kelly was criticizing him because she was on her period.
“[T]o me, there’s more power in it if there’s more humor,” Levy wrote of the much-covered artwork. “I think there’s a way to use art, especially if it’s a little humorous, to begin to deflate Trump’s arrogance and give back confidence to all the people who might be a tad terrified at the prospect of a racist doofus like him running the country.”
Illma Gore, Make America Great Again
Gore says that her painting of a nude Trump with a tiny penis was meant to “raise questions about how we think about gender.” This is probably not what rocketed it to the front page of Reddit, however.
After the picture went super-viral, Gore says she faced a variety of threats, legal and otherwise, from Trump fans, had to deal with a variety of Facebook takedown requests, and was even punched in LA by someone who yelled “Trump 2016!”
In April, London’s Maddox gallery put it on display.
Conor Collins, Donald
By January, Trump had already left a trail of offensive quotes deep enough that Manchester, England artist Conor Collins could create this acrylic-on-canvas Trump portrait, weaving his image from them.
James Ostrer, Emotion Download 213M
The work was part of a larger project for the British artist, titled “The Ego System,” which he describes as “honesty portraits” of celebrities. But it was his Trump portrait, conjured from a pig snout, sheep’s eyeballs, and an unmistakably Trumpian wig that attracted international attention when it appeared at the Hong Kong Art Central fair in March.
“I wanted to create a visual icon of the megalomania that has got to the point where [Trump’s] need for attention is overriding any kind of relationship or care for anyone else in the world,” he told Reuters.
Plastic Jesus, wall around Trump’s Hollywood star
“There’s been a lot of personal attacks on Donald Trump, both politically and by artists,” LA street artist Plastic Jesus told artnet News in a phone conversation. “I think really what we should be focused on is attacking ridiculous policies that will damage the US.”
Rather than a response to his person, Plastic Jesus responded to Trump’s signature policy idea, erecting a miniature wall around the former reality TV show star’s star on the Walk of Fame during the Republican National Convention, complete with American flag and signs that read, “Keep out.”
Brian Andrew Whiteley, The Legacy Stone Project (The Donald Trump Tombstone)
When a tombstone appeared in Central Park with the inscription, “Donald J. Trump, 1946—, Made America Hate Again,” some took it as an actual threat to the candidate’s life, though it was obviously meant more in the spirit of the Ghost of America Future.
The stone, eventually revealed to be by artist Brian Andrew Whiteley, appeared in “Why I Want to Fuck Donald Trump,” a show of anti-Trump art at Joshua Liner gallery in New York that opened in October.
INDECLINE, The Emperor Has No Balls
In August, grotesque naked statues of Donald Trump with a tiny penis (that again!) popped up simultaneously in Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. They were quickly credited to the anarchist collective INDECLINE, with production by a Vegas-based fabricator who goes by Ginger.
The group issued a statement declaring that “these fleeting installations represent this fleeting nightmare and in the fall, it is our wish to look back and laugh at Donald Trump’s failed and delusional quest to obtain the presidency.” (The Emperor Has No Balls was also the subject of a backlash: “The same instinct that inspires ridicule here is what makes life scary and painful for those of us whose bodies don’t look the way they ‘should,’” wrote Quartz editor Thomas McBee.)
Fernando Sosa, Donald Trump Plug
This was not the first time that Sosa had crafted a butt plug in the shape of a public figure, but his Donald Trump Plug did have a very special meaning for the artist, who was born in Mexico: “I’m no rapist and no drug dealer. I have a college degree in 3D animation and run my own 3D printing business and guess what? I can make you into any shape I want and 3D print you and sell you to others who share a dislike of you.”
Lydia Leith, Presidential Election Sick Bag
“Lots of people here in the UK can’t believe he is serious (especially about building a giant wall etc.),” British artist Leith told artnet News by email back in April, when she unveiled her line of Donald Trump-themed air sickness bags. It features the Republican’s face and the text “Keep This Handy in November.”
Well, November is here, and editions of the artwork is still available on Leith’s website for just £3.
Mindaugas Bonanu, Make Everything Great Again
Based on a famous piece of Cold War graffiti of German and Soviet leaders smooching, this mural touched a nerve far beyond Lithuania, where it appeared back in May.
The artist’s own comments to the press were not particularly clear, but at least one political science professor in Vilnius seemed to confirm that it was read in its context as critique, speaking to Agence France Presse: “This graffiti in Vilnius expresses the fear of some Lithuanians that Donald Trump is likely to kowtow to Vladimir Putin and be indifferent to Lithuania’s security concerns.”
Hanksy, Dump Trump
Say what you will about the pun-filled work of street artist Hanksy, but the guy is determined to get his message out. After his Dump Trump mural in NYC, which rendered Trump as the poop emoji, he took his show on the road with his “Dump Across America” tour, and offered downloadable versions of his graphic quips. “This is not a political group. It’s not politics. It’s just common sense,” he wrote on the section of his website titled “The (Bowel) Movement.”
Robbie Conal, Bully Culprit
The 72-year-old street art legend Robbie Conal is an old hand at the political poster game, and returned to the fray with this striking entry in the anti-Trump camp. As he told the L.A. Times, “with Trump, there’s no way I couldn’t do anything.”
Pegasus, Trump Hitler
The Chicago-born, London-based street artist got a ton of press for his Bristol mural, which gave visual voice to the hackneyed but reliable Trump-Hitler comparison. In October, when he took his show on the road for an LA exhibition, Pegasus says both he received a total of 28 death threats.
“They say they know what day the show’s going to be… and they’re going to come and sabotage it,” his manager told Mashable. “It’s quite frightening really. I think people must be really obsessed with Donald.”
Jacob Thomas, Hitler Trump
It started, evidently, when Chicago illustrator Jacob Thomas heard Trump tell some kids that he was Batman, and decided to give life to the image. Lest that somewhat heroic-sounding work confuse you, Thomas went on to render Mao Trump, Richie Rich Trump, and yes, even Hitler Trump, which is available for download, and has popped up at rallies in NYC. He has also done Full of $hit, a Trump-themed toilet bowl sculpture.
El Peezo, Donald Drumpf
Phoenix-based street artist El Peezo came out of a year-and-a-half silence to create this wheat-paste work, depicting the Republican hopeful as slug-like Star Wars gangster Jabba the Hutt, with a chain proudly identifying him as “Drumpf” (The Donald’s real ancestral name, as pointed out by John Oliver). Note the tiny hands.
Wwwayward, Voldemort Motivational Posters
Fans of the billionaire at a rally in the summer snapped up posters featuring his image and the inspirational quote, “There is no good and evil / there is only power / and those too weak to seek it.” It was a trap, courtesy of the radical collective Wwwayward: The quote comes from Harry Potter villain Voldemort and, in a twist, the poster even features a glow-in-the-dark image of “You-Know-Who” when you turn out the lights.
In an even better twist, all the money from the posters was donated to Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization benefiting LGBTQ Latino communities.
Mike Diva, Japanese Donald Trump Commercial
A particularly zany entry into the anti-Donald Trump art universe, this candy-colored viral hit racked up over 6 million views (for reference: roughly 1,000 times the total for Carrie Mae Weems‘s officially promoted pro-Clinton video).
Its spirit is more frolicsome than most of the genre, but Diva was reasonably clear when asked if it was intended to make Trump look bad: “I dunno. i guess it depends on whether u think swastikas and trump literally blowing up the planet is bad.”
Robert Cenedella, Fín del Mundo
Cenedella, subject of the recent documentary Art Bastard, has unveiled his massive painting at Central Park Fine Arts in New York, just in time for the final election week. Inspired by Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, it centers on the image of Trump, depicted as the devil himself.
Vicki Da Silva, “Loser” light graffiti
In March, New York artist Vicki Da Silva staged an ephemeral intervention in front of Trump’s 40 Wall Street building, drawing the word “LOSER” in the air in light graffiti. “Since Trump has a nasty habit of calling people losers, it was my way of putting it back on him using his name and logo,” she told the Huffington Post.
Barbara Kruger, Loser
The legendary artist brought her signature zippy graphic style to the cover of New York magazine’s Election issue this week, producing one of the most concise, and most-circulated, art commentaries on the election. Editor Adam Moss explained that he and his team “were drawn to it, in part, for the three ways in which it could be interpreted: as Trump speaking (single word epithets being his specialty); as a description of Trump; and as a call on the election result.”
Alison Jackson, Trump performance
British artist Alison Jackson, who specializes in staging surreally almost-credible celebrity portraiture, had already done a portfolio of satirical Trump images for Vanity Fair. But when she arrived in New York city for her show “Private” at HG Contemporary, she turned it up a notch, staging a impersonation/protest, with a Donald Trump lookalike causing a very real media circus in midtown, surrounded by beauty queens holding signs riffing on some of the fouler quotes the candidate has said about women (“Miss Piggy,” “Let Go of My Pussy,” etc.)
Chaz and Lucy, Pussy Protector
Spotted just today by Babe, the British creative duo Chaz Mather and Lucy Jones are evidently handing out these combination chastity belt/mousetraps, dubbed Pussy Protectors, at Heathrow airport in London.
t.Rutt (David Gleeson and Mary Mihelic), T.Rump Bus
The collective t.Rutt (that’s a play on Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego, R. Mutt) created what is perhaps the most literally far-reaching election artwork of the year, buying an old Trump campaign bus and criss-crossing the country, accumulating press coverage and stories along the way. They have built mock sections of Trump’s wall and taken flags stitched with some of his infamous quotes to Trump rallies. Their satirical road trip has dealt with haters from both sides. “About every two minutes, when we’re driving down the road, somebody gives us the finger. We’ve been keyed. We’ve been spray-painted. People have thrown ketchup and eggs at the bus,” Mihelic told Good.is.
Tony Pro, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
San Antonio-based painter Tony Pro gives us both Trump and Clinton in clown noses, a motif he has also applied to figures like Kim Kardashian to Bill Murray. The works are filed under the “Sarcasm” section of his website.
Ivan Orama, Presidential Value Meal
Another equal opportunity offender. Street artist Ivan Orama has Ronald McDonald-ized both candidates, rendering them as “McTrump” and “McClinton.” The commentary doesn’t seem to be a lot deeper than that.
Phillip Kremer, doctored Trump and Hillary images
Houston-based Phillip Kremer specializes in transforming celebrity photos into Photoshop monsters. He got plenty of attention for the claim that his memorably monstrous Trumps got him kicked off Instagram, though this seems to have more to do with copyright infringement claims, and he has created monstrous riffs on Hillary Clinton as well.
Just how long and how intensely fought has this election been? Long enough that you can write a play just out of spam email from the campaigns. Staged at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and directed by Sara Rademacher, Campaign did just that, describing itself as a rebooted version of the “Theater of the Absurd.”
Fare included a spin on Fairey’s Obama poster featuring Clinton and the word “LIAR” (instead of “HOPE”); Trumped Picasso, featuring Trump’s face in a sort-of Cubist style; and T-shirts that say “Grab Them by the Pussy. Trump 2016,” which may be criticism of the candidate, though it’s difficult to imagine anyone, from any side, wearing them.
The internet, Giant Meteor 2016
Since May, a parody Twitter account has been campaigning as “Giant Meteor 2016.” Tagline: “Just End It Already.” Twitter bio: “Giant flaming meteor, extinction level event, 2016 presidential candidate, probably your best option.”
The meteor meme has made an impact on the race: By October, a poll found that 23 percent of voters aged 18 to 35 preferred “Giant Meteor” to any of their options.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.