There are many things liberal Americans are learning to live with in 2017. One of them is Donald Trump’s body — and the way he talks about and acts around other people’s bodies, particularly women’s bodies. On the left, many had circled November 8 as the last time they would have to think about these things — the last time they’d have to think about them daily, anyway. Instead, in the months since the election, people and artists everywhere have been effectively addressing every aspect of Trump’s presidency in numerous visual memes and remixes of his image. Jonathan Horowitz — long known for his activist art around gay rights, vegetarianism, and radical politics in general — has made one such extraordinary altered image of Trump. In it, he takes us on a journey into the metaphysics of this man’s great, somewhat mysterious, half-beast behemoth bulk. By mysterious I mean strange, always swathed in a lot of clothes, large but unformed, awkward because he has no clear shape or outline. In the Horowitz, we see Trump’s visage dominating the picture. He is photographed from behind, wearing all white except for his trademark red MAGA hat. The image is Trump golfing and was taken at Trump’s Scottish golf course by Ian MacNicol in 2012 and widely published. Horowitz’s alterations are simple, smart, and somehow vividly give us not just Trump’s elephantine omnipresence but his vulnerabilities, insecurities, and anger at other bodies.
The Horowitz is part of a great group show at Petzel Gallery: We need to talk … Artists and the public respond to the present conditions in America. The large exhibition was mounted by the gallery’s staff after the election and is meant to address the political situation at hand and fathom how art might speak to it. It was assembled in less than 30 days and is fantastic; it includes more than a hundred videos taken via open call. Kudos to the gallery and its staff. I walked home from the show obsessing over this work, turning it over in my mind. Only when I emailed my editor did I learn that the piece had actually been originally commissioned by New York, though it never ran — strange coincidence.
Horowitz enlarges the found photograph and mounts it on recycled Hexacomb paperboard so that it takes on the formal presence of a painting. Behind the figure of Trump, Horowitz has inserted a keyed-up post-nuclear apocalyptic sunset. That’s almost it. You instantly get the feeling of precarious doom, a Cat in the Hat character playing with the world. Yet the title of the picture detonates this even more. Keep in mind that only the most talented artists can successfully occupy the immaterial Duchampian space between a work of art and its title — making layers of new meaning manifest. (e.g. Nude Descending a Staircase). Horowitz’s title is Does She Have a Good Body? No. Does She Have a Fat Ass? Absolutely. The words are Trump’s from a 2013 interview of him fat-shaming Kim Kardashian. Not included in the title is him assuring the interviewer he’d never “want to go out with her.”
Horowitz mixes up a lot of different interesting medicines in this picture. First, the terrible way Trump talks about women is combined with this picture of his own terribly out-of-shape body. From behind there’s no getting around this. The psychic tables turn instantly; you can’t help notice how like a blancmange Trump’s body is. In this way the picture also amplifies the double standard always in play between the sexes — feminizing him by subjecting him to his own odious male gaze. We think about how uncomfortable Trump often looks in his body — the strange pictures of him pawing his daughter, kissing his vice-president. We recall the memes of him leaving his wife stranded at podiums, in limousines. We think about how his sexuality seems adolescent, mean, misogynistic, and how it generally lacks sensuality. And how he’s always covered in this great broad-shouldered Mafioso-style overcoat. Like a male muumuu. Or his idea of a power suit. All to cover something — or rather, everything. I fancy him a tailor’s nightmare. Trump has never been known for his sportive side, either. From a very young age he’s shown signs of being overweight and out of shape; maybe this is why he produced that “most fit ever” “doctor’s report.” In his work, Horowitz also gets at Trump’s over-cleanliness, his admitted germophobia — he’s said he hates shaking hands or touching people. A kind of boy in a virginal bubble. This then gets sexual when we recall the incredible national discomfort felt when at a Republican debate he held up his hands and assured the country there was “no problem” with his penis. In this very efficient way then Horowitz makes Trump’s many attacks on other people’s bodies boomerang and places Trump as butt of his own sexism. This is art and caricature at its political best — not just humor of partisanship, but deep insight and simple truth made visible, unavoidable.
But there’s more: The shift in color and Trump’s aloneness in the landscape transforms the setting from golf course to world stage — and gives the background a sense of Boschian destruction. I thought of the first words of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road: “My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.” All this makes this straightforward picture as complicated as any of Daumier’s images. As with the many amazing signs, slogans, and images already produced by protesters everywhere, the Horowitz is further proof of new generations rising to defend their country in any way they can. (Horowitz also makes stacks of the work available at the gallery entrance, à la Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s piles of free posters, a beautiful echo of nascent 1990s AIDS activism.) I think Horowitz’s image should become the official presidential portrait to hang in all federal buildings, courthouses, and post offices. It speaks volumes.
*The original version of this article incorrectly listed the title of Horowitz’s Does She Have a Good Body? No. Does She Have a Fat Ass? Absolutely. as Does She Have a Good Ass? No. Does She Have a Fat Ass? Absolutely.