Donald Trump Lookalike Causes a Ruckus on Fifth Avenue With Performance Art Piece
This writer didn't know what she had gotten herself into.
Donald Trump is a walking media circus, and yet I still didn’t know what I had gotten myself into when I agreed to attend Alison Jackson’s Trump impersonator art performance. The piece, which was a protest of the presidential candidate’s treatment of women, was held outside New York’s Trump Tower on October 25, timed to the opening of her new show, “Private,” at HG Contemporary.
We were told to meet a few blocks north at the Plaza Hotel at 12:30 p.m., and that Jackson and her performers would set off on their motorcade at 1:00 p.m. Instead, it was 2:15 p.m. before they arrived, having first been held up in traffic and then by the authorities.
“It’s been terrible. The police keep on stopping us for nothing,” Jackson told artnet News, once the performance had finally kicked off. The piece complements the British artist’s new photographs, in which a Trump impersonator is caught in compromising positions in her paparazzi-like images.
One of the photos in the series, titled Trump Money, is included in artnet Auction’s current “Rebels” photography auction (October 24–November 2, 2016). The second, in an edition of five, which is a signed chromogenic print, is estimated to sell for $6,000–8,000. Earlier works by Jackson have featured lookalikes for public figures such as the British royal family.
While journalists and photographers were waiting for Jackson’s latest piece to begin, there was plenty of spectacle at Trump Tower, where the billionaire’s presidential candidacy was already being protested by artists and activists. One man had a handmade sign reading “arrest Donald Trump for treason” on one side, and “Benedict Trump” on the other.
Another was there selling buttons of Hanksy’s infamous Trump poop mural, apparently with the street artist’s blessing. Completing the trio was artist Tyler Alexander, holding up a large canvas that showed the Republican nominee naked, but with a gun in place of his penis. “The more he talks,” the artist told artnet News, “the more this painting makes sense.”
The anti-Trump mood was somewhat shattered when the Naked Cowboy, one of the city’s most infamous buskers, who performs in patriotically adorned underwear and cowboy boots and hat, arrived to serenade us. He was anticipating Jackson’s arrival, and had written “TRUMP” in big letters across the seat of his pants. He sang that “Vladimir Putin could be our friend/let the hostility finally end,” among other pro-Trump statements.
There was confusion over the delay—at one point, the press was herded one block north, only to be sent straight back. A half dozen police officers had materialized in front of Trump Tower, and suddenly Trump was there—or at least his doppleganger was, a convincingly rotund gentleman with a thatch of orange-hued hair and three buxom, bikini-clad babes on his arms, all climbing out of a white Bentley convertible.
Chaos ensued. As “The Donald” moved down the sidewalk, he was instantly surrounded in a crush of people: photographers, tourists, publicists, and Jackson’s other performers, young women, also in bikinis, who were waving anti-Trump posters and chanting “respect us!” The crowd was nearly impenetrable.
“I’ve invited all those women today to make comments about how they felt about Trump. That’s a bunch of genuine women,” Jackson said. “They feel very strongly.”
“My great-grandmother was part of the Pankhurst protest,” led by British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in 1910, Jackson added. “To go backwards in this way is really a bad, ugly issue.”
She wasn’t surprised by how big a commotion the piece was causing, having staged similar performances in the past. “The royals stopped Picadilly Circus, an absolute standstill,” Jackson said. “It’s really good fun. People love it, don’t they?”
Jackson’s Trump was undaunted by the protests and the crowds, continuing slowly but steadily down the sidewalk, occasionally pausing to pose for a photograph. Several times, he reached for his companions’ private parts, a clear reference to the Access Hollywood hot mic video in which Trump bragged that women let him grope them.
The patriotically-dressed actress reeled back in horror. Later, Trump suggestively fed her a hot dog, sans bun, from a nearby cart. Unfazed, a grinning tourist asked for a selfie, sporting an enthusiastic thumbs up.
It was unclear how many people actually knew what was going on, though many clearly realized that the man at the center of the action was not actually Trump. Politics barely seemed to factor into how the public experienced the event: regardless of their opinion of the man himself, everyone was focused on documenting the moment, capturing the perfect photo to share on social media.
“He’s a celebrity, this guy—he’s not a politician, he’s a reality show,” Jackson said. “Of course, people love celebrity, and he plays up to it, and panders to it—and he might well be president.”
As if to illustrate this rather unsettling point, a woman crossing the street ran up to “The Donald” as he hopped into a cab to drive away. “Bye Mr. Trump!” she shouted. “I’ll vote for you!”
“Alison Jackson: Private” is on view at HG Contemporary Gallery, 527 West 23rd Street, October 25–30, 2016.
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