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ALIENATED MAJESTY

Is Trump’s border wall art?

By Hannah Yi

In president Donald Trump’s crusade to keep unauthorized Mexican immigrants out of the US, he might have unintentionally become an artist—depending on what you consider “art.”

The Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel recently drew attention to the eight wall prototypes built as a preparation for Trump’s controversial proposed wall at the United States’ southern border, arguing that they should be designated as a national monument. He has started an online petition (350 signatures so far) and cites the Antiquities Act of 1906, which “protects significant natural, cultural, or scientific features on Federal land.” He is also offering tours of the site, which have all sold out.

Some art and political critics erupted in alarm, calling Büchel a provocateur for recasting a politically charged issue as purely aesthetic. (Büchel declined to comment. His representative said his working principle is to let the work speak for itself.)

But Jerry Saltz, the senior art critic for New York Magazine, sees the hallmarks of several artistic movements in the stark figure that the eight large panels cut, jutting out of the ground. The border walls can easily stand alongside artworks by Marcel Duchamp to Richard Serra, he says.

Saltz imagines the prototypes standing as a minimalist monument, telling future generations “how close this country came, in the early 21st century, to a flirtation with hate, xenophobia, racism.” He evokes the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Watch our video for an art lesson, delivered in the unexpected form of Trump’s border wall prototypes.