Hillary Clinton’s infamous emails have inspired a new work of art on view during the Venice Biennale. Artist Kenneth Goldsmith is displaying all 60,000 pages of the emails that were sent on the 2016 presidential candidate’s private server as part of his show “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails,” staged in a Venetian movie theater-turned-grocery store.
“Donald Trump said, ‘Where are her emails? Lock her up!’ And I said, ‘You know what? Here they are, and there’s really nothing to them.’ It’s kind of an anti-monument,” Goldsmith told artnet News. “Trump literally made a mountain out of a molehill.”
Goldsmith believes that so much was able to be made of the “mythical” emails because no one knew what their contents were, and thus it was easy to imagine the worst. The Wikileaks dump only allowed viewers to download one message at a time, which made it difficult to review the mass of information that was made public.
“Along with the Mueller report, these are the most important political documents of our time, and they were never seen,” Goldsmith said. “If they had been seen, they might not have had the power that Trump imbued them with.”
Goldsmith is actually displaying not one but two sets of the emails. One is displayed in stacks of loose sheets piled high on a replica of the Oval Office’s presidential desk (a company in London sells them to order). The other has been bound into volumes and is being shown in a library setting. Visitors are invited to take a seat and page through the documents to see for themselves the mundane correspondence that became such a pivotal—perhaps decisive—issue in the 2016 election.
“I tried to read them all and I couldn’t,” Goldsmith said. “They were too boring and there were too many of them.” The exhibition will be accompanied by a book in which the artist has chosen his favorite of the emails.
Printing all 60,000 pages took three days and cost roughly $5,000. The project was organized by the curatorial team Francesco Urbano Ragazzi and presented by the Venetian cultural platform Zuecca Projects, which has a number of collateral exhibition scattered across the city. (The exhibition also draws on the venue’s theatrical history, screening videos from UbuWeb, the artist’s online archive of avant-garde art, on the store’s back wall, and displaying the list of featured artists atop the supermarket aisles.)
“I tried to get people to show this for two years and nobody would. People were too scared,” said Goldsmith. “I don’t think it’s that controversial, to tell you the truth. But people are more afraid of the concept than the actual material. It’s a pile of papers, but it’s a very powerful pile of papers. It changed the course of history—of America, but also of the world.”
See more photos of Kenneth Goldsmith’s “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails” below.
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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