Art Provocateur Christoph Büchel Wants to Turn Trump’s Border Wall Models Into Land Art

Büchel believes Trump's wall prototypes should be recognized for their aesthetic value and declared a national monument.

The border wall prototypes as seen from the Mexican side of the border. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.
The border wall prototypes as seen from the Mexican side of the border. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

For artist Christoph Büchel, Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the US and Mexico isn’t just a $70 billion “Keep Out” sign to our southern neighbors. He believes the eight government-commissioned wall prototypes erected outside San Diego are works of art. That’s why he has launched a petition calling for their preservation and protection, comparing them to Stonehenge or 20th-century land art by the likes of Donald Judd.  At a cost of $3.3 million taxpayer dollars, the prototypes would comprise one of the more expensive publicly funded art projects in recent history, if Büchel has his way.

Though the border wall remains a hot-button issue, Büchel isn’t trying to critique it. “My political position, that’s not interesting in this context,” he told the New York Times. “When you look at it here, and you see everything, it’s quite a strong conceptual impact. Visually it is really striking. That’s why this should be preserved, because it talks so much about our history.”

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

With the president’s signature campaign promise in the prototype stage, Büchel has also co-opted the models, declaring the site “a major Land Art exhibition” of “significant cultural value,” according to the project website. He has also borrowed Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, which lends the MAGA acronym to the “non-profit art organization” overseeing the project.

Six companies were contracted to erect the prototypes, from concrete or other materials, designed to withstand intense heat and repeated impact and to be aesthetically pleasing—at least from the US side. Standing 30 feet tall, they are meant to be impossible to scale, even with the assistance of climbing gear, or to pass underneath. Since being completed in October, the walls have undergone significant tests to determine how easily they can be breached.

Although some observers immediately dismissed the artist’s move as a tasteless stunt, it isn’t exactly out of character for Büchel. The committed provocateur has opened a sex club inside a historic Vienna art space, sued Mass MoCA for opening an unfinished installation without his consent, and installed homeless people’s shopping carts on the lawns of Frieze New York.

The Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

The Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

Büchel initially launched a petition for the prototype’s preservation on petitions.whitehouse.gov, but the site is currently down for maintenance through the end of the month. The artist’s hope is to have the prototypes declared a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which protects naturally, culturally, or scientifically significant sites.

Each of the eight models costs between $320,000 and $486,000 for the $3.3 million total. (Congress earmarked $20 million for wall prototypes in its 2017 budget.) If you want to see them in person, you can take a tour with Büchel, who has been leading groups over into Tijuana, where the prototypes are visible from a dirt road since December. Current dates are sold out, but tours will continue through January 28.

See more border wall photos below.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

The eight different prototypes of the border wall. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection, taken by Yesica Uvina.

The eight different prototypes of the border wall. Photo courtesy of US Customs and Border Protection, taken by Yesica Uvina.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

The border wall prototypes as seen from the Mexican side of the border. Photo courtesy of Christoph Büchel.

The border wall prototypes as seen from the Mexican side of the border. Photo courtesy of Christoph Büchel.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.

One of the Mexican border wall prototypes. Photo courtesy of Bjarni Grimsson.


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