Trump Administration

Government Entity Committee on Arts and Humanities Resigns En Masse after Trump's Charlottesville Response

President Trump's Committee on Arts and Humanities, which is chaired by Melania Trump, has resigned en masse following the dissolution of Trump's business, manufacturing and infrastructure advisory councils.

This development raises the question: Trump had an arts and humanities advisory committee?

In fact, the group was assembled under President Obama's administration and had never actually convened since President Trump assumed office. Unlike the other committees that disappeared this week, however, the arts and humanities advisory committee was an actual government entity rather than just an informal assemblage.

The resignation statement was signed by all members of the committee, which included painter and photographer Chuck Close and novelist Jhumpa Lahiri.

"Do You See Stars, Fascist Superman?"

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Writing in Hyperallergic, Jason Diamond has an interesting take on the fantastic survey of Raymond Pettibon's work currently on view at the New Museum: Raymond Pettibon- A Pen of All Work. In considering Pettibon's body of work from a macroscopic perspective, Diamond focuses on disparate themes that all seem to point point towards the present dystopian moment that we are all struggling to comprehend. Although moments of profound societal upheaval inevitably tend to sharpen our gaze upon facets of visual culture that seem, in retrospect, to be prescient or perhaps even prophetic, Diamond writes convincingly about how disconcertingly accurate Pettibon's dark visions of America now feel:

"Whether he’s drawing cops, dictators, or American presidents, [Pettibon is] telling us that people will abuse their power and that abuse will lead to untold horrors and the suffering of innocent people. But in Pettibon’s work...What’s frighteningly noticeable in 2017, more than ever before, is that Pettibon’s talking about the here and now. Things are terrifying and bad, they always have been, and they don’t look like they’re changing anytime soon."

Thankfully, Pettibon's drawings and paintings are intermittently leavened by hints of the ecstatic--particularly in his depictions of the physical pleasures associated with surfing and baseball. However, the center of gravity of Pettibon's work inevitably comes to rest at a point beyond which the American dream has already lapsed into nightmare. There are manifold pleasurable elements in Pettibon's art for the viewer to savor: the exuberance of his lines, the recognizable but enigmatic cultural references, and the mordant wit of his text. But right now, the more blighted and threatening facets of Pettibon's vision strike pretty damn close to the bone.

NEA, NEH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Slated for Elimination

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President Trump just released his FY18 budget proposal and, as had been rumored, the package would completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The NEA, in particular, has been a bete noire for many conservatives since the 1980s when a series of controversial exhibitions, particularly those featuring work by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, angered Republican members of Congress.

Although the exhibitions reviled by conservatives constituted a vanishingly small portion of the NEA budget, the agency has struggled to stave off their anger. The elimination of the NEA likely has more to do with symbolism than fiscal prudence, as the total funding of both agencies amounts to a rounding error in the federal budget. As far as symbolism is concerned, it is worth noting that the NEA had already been physically displaced from its former home in the building which has now become a Trump hotel. Moreover, the cost of redecorating the hotel significantly exceeded the entire annual NEA budget.

Unfortunately, the largest impact of destroying the NEA will likely be felt in areas outside the nation's metropolitan centers, whose public museums and private galleries will survive. In recent years, the NEA has increasingly focussed on supporting community projects in parts of the country that have few cultural resources, providing funding for projects radio stations in rural areas, community-based theater companies and programs for returning veterans.

As President Trump relies heavily on family and personal relationships in his decision-making, some had hoped that advocates for the arts with access to the President might have provided some protections for the endowments. Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice President, is an advocate for art therapy and a longtime painter. Ivanka Trump is a serious collector of contemporary art whose collection includes works by Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, David Ostrowski and many others. During the presidential transition, Mr. Trump himself seemed to evince some interest in the NEA when he reportedly offered his friend Sylvester Stallone a chance to run the endowment. Stallone, a long-time painter whose work has been widely exhibited, was reportedly flattered but declined the offer.

As the budget proposal moves through Congress, there is still a chance that funding for the endowments could be restored. Many arts organizations are already mobilizing support. However, the endowments themselves, legally barred from lobbying, cannot advocate for their own survival.

Warhol vs. Trump in the 1980s

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Since it's hard not to focus at this moment on how everything relates to Donald Trump, we might as well look back at his historical interactions with the art world. The Warhol Blog has an interesting overview of the artist's experiences with Trump during the 1980s. The two first met at a birthday party for notorious attorney and Trump advisor Roy Cohn in 1981. They subsequently encountered each other at The Factory in an arranged meeting to discuss commissions for Trump Tower. Although it was not yet built, Warhol produced a series of silkscreens with diamond dust based on the architectural models for the building.

When Trump came back to view the paintings, he reportedly was unhappy about the colors. Trump had already selected the basic gold and pink color scheme that persists in the building to this day and wanted paintings that would precisely match. Also, he balked at the price of the works. Warhol's perception was that, despite his efforts to develop an eponymous brand identified with luxury and excess, Trump himself was rather "cheap." The budding tycoon never purchased any of Warhol's paintings, and the artist disparaged him in all of his subsequent diary entries. Today, most of Warhol's "Trump Tower" paintings are in the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

No More Federal Funding for the Arts?

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Leaked details regarding the Trump Administration's planned budget proposal suggest that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are all on the chopping block. The NEH and NEA reportedly will be terminated and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting sold off.

In terms of the federal budget, it has been well documented that the support for the arts makes up a vanishingly small portion of the federal budget (less than .001% annually).

De-funding the NEA and NEH have long been a goal of some conservative members of Congress, who consistently point to a handful of controversial exhibitions that received some NEA funding. However, the NEA provides thousands of grants to recipients across the nation, including to many areas where citizens have little local access to cultural resources.

As Graham Bowley of the NYT notes, the NEA and NEH had already taken significant hits even before Trump's election, having been evicted from their offices to make way for the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC. In an apt sign of the times, renovation of the Trump Hotel cost over USD $200 million, which exceeds the entire budgets of the NEA and NEH combined.

Trump Administration Policies to Disrupt International Art Collaborations

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The Trump Administration's sweeping, if ambiguous, new immigration policies will have profound effects on international, collaborative arts programming. Thomas P. Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recognizes that the new policies will undermine efforts to improve relationships with the effected nations through art and cultural exchange:

“Scholarly exchanges and international collaborations are key to our ongoing work, and we are very concerned that a number of programs we have in place could be threatened, just at a time when the world needs more, not less, exchange and mutual understanding.”

Met curator Kim Benzel notes that the exhibitions likely to be disrupted would have provided a focus on themes of freedom and human rights in a historical, cross-cultural context:

“[The impact of Trump Administration policies] is particularly ironic, given that the earliest formulation of what we recognize today as the concept of habeas corpus was expressed in the Codex Hammurabi, an ancient Iraqi monument about justice, set up in public so that all citizens could access their rights.” 

“It was one of the many contributions of Iraq to the world, and in this case, to democracy itself,” she added. “Where and how did things go so wrong?”