Poet-Provocateur Kenneth Goldsmith Is Showing All 60,000 of Hillary Clinton’s Leaked Emails as Art

The documents will be shown in Venice during the opening of the Venice Biennale.

Kenneth Goldsmith, Rainbow Hillary (2019).
Kenneth Goldsmith, Rainbow Hillary (2019).

Ever wondered what was actually in Hillary Clinton’s much-talked-about emails that helped Donald Trump secure the 2016 presidential election? In Venice come May, the artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith will display all 60,000 of Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails in an exhibition opening at the same time as the 58th edition of the prestigious art biennale.

For the exhibition “x,” Goldsmith has printed off the controversial emails and will exhibit them in an installation featuring replicas of some of the furnishings of the Oval Office in the White House. The show, organized by the curatorial team Francesco Urbano Ragazzi, opens May 9 in a former cinema building.

“These are the most important political documents of our times,” Goldsmith says in a statement about the exhibition. “They have been discussed at every level of public opinion but almost no-one has read them. Hidden in full view, all the e-mails were available online but nevertheless they have become a sort of ghost. HILLARY is their first public appearance.”

Kenneth Goldsmith. Portrait © Jerónimo Álvarez.

Kenneth Goldsmith. Portrait © Jerónimo Álvarez.

Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to send official emails during her term as Secretary of State has been known about since 2009, but it became a major talking point during the 2016 presidential election when Donald Trump used the information to attack his rival nominee.

The scandal saw the birth of the often repeated moniker “Crooked Hillary,” despite the fact that the US senator was never convicted of any crime (although after an investigation, the then-FBI director James Comey concluded she had been “extremely careless.”)

The furor surrounding the email scandal ultimately contributed to Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump. Printed out, all the emails sent from the clintonemail.com domain between 2009 and 2013 are quite unimpressive-looking, which the artist sees as an undermining of Trump’s attempts to amplify their significance. The press materials for the show describe it as “an anti-monument to the folly of Trump’s heinous smear campaign against Clinton.”

Kenneth Goldsmith, Coffee table (detail) 2019.

Kenneth Goldsmith, Coffee table (detail) 2019.

Goldsmith’s work with the emails is part of an ongoing series that looks at physical manifestations of the document in the digital age. For a show at LABOR Gallery in Mexico City in 2013 titled Printing out the Internet, Goldsmith tried to do exactly what the title stated, resulting in a total of 10 tons printed internet pages. (Some critics viewed this act as a monumental waste.)

For Printing out JSTOR: A Tribute to Aaron Swartz at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Kunstverein Hamburg in 2014, he printed out 33 gigabytes of data, the amount of data that open internet activist Aaron Swartz was prosecuted for stealing from JSTOR.

His tendency to play with politically charged found text has sparked controversy in the past. In 2015 at Brown University, he read aloud the autopsy report of Michael Brown, the African American 18-year-old whose killing by police touched off protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The performance sparked accusations of racial insensitivity.

Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019.

Kenneth Goldsmith, The Hillary Clinton Emails (detail) 2019.

Clinton’s emails will be on view in a gallery and in the lobby on the second floor of Venice’s Teatro Italia, a former cinema that was converted into a Despar supermarket in 2016.

Throughout the course of the exhibition, avant-garde films and poems will also be projected onto the theater’s large cinema screen, which is above the supermarket’s gastronomic counter. The programming will be based on the copies of rare works available on Goldsmith’s web portal UbuWeb, which the artist founded in 1996. Digitized versions of works by artists including Peggy Ahwesh, Alex Da Corte, Sara Sackner, and Jordan Wolfson will feature, among others.

Kenneth Goldsmith’s “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails” is on view at Despar Teatro Italiano, Campiello de l’Anconeta, 1944, 30121 Venezia, May 9–November 24, 2019.


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