Art in the age of Trump will have to take sides. And because art that's worthy of the name is mostly generated in cities, and because cities did not vote for Trump, it will be against everything that Trump is for: white nationalism, wall building, Islamophobia, misogyny, pro-police brutality, and capitalist realism.
Art can no longer be neutral. It has to say something.
When I walked into the King Street Station exhibit The Bureau of Arts & Culture, which opens December 1 and is by PDL (a collective that includes Jed Dunkerly, Greg Lundgren, Jason Puccinelli, and Arne Pihl), my first question was: what part of Trumpism is it challenging? And after a look at the 21 installations, I concluded it is capitalist realism. And exactly what is this kind of realism? It is the idea that "there is no alternative" (TINA). The thinking goes like this: Capitalism might be bad, but other economic systems are much worse. Trump has taken TINA to another level. He clearly plans to run America like one of his businesses. He will not be our president, but our CEO. There will be no line between public and private forms of ownership. This is the America that rural and suburban whites voted for. We in the cities are now stuck with it. To challenge this CEO realism, The Bureau of Arts & Culture presents proposals that imagine other kinds of economies and ways to connect art to circuits that are clearly outside of the market. (It is important to note that the exhibit was organized many months before our worst fears were realized on the worst night of a terrible year, Nov 8.)
Some of the proposals in the show are just comic, such as the massive, cylindrical, and transparent structure that rises above the clouds and ensures that, during the day, Seattle always has a sunny spot. But some proposals are very serious about incorporating art into a system of things that do not orbit the exchange value of the markets (money for a thing, a thing for money). What these proposals are saying is: there's an alternative, and its materialization requires a little dreaming, a little nonsense, and a lot of courage. The best example of this is “Give Gallery,” an installation that connects art acquisition with, say, blood donations (Bloodworks Northwest will be there on opening night to exchange your blood for a voucher that can be used to obtain a work of art by a local artist.)
As a side note, it is worth pointing out that Sarah Bergmann's Pollinator Pathway is an art/nature project that has put the anti-capitalist realism of the PDL show into practice. Her work constructs networks within the city that offer services to wild (not domesticated) animals. This is completely opposite the pollination services of bees, which are commodified, have a market value, and operate according to the bottom line of a CEO. Art in the age of Trump will oppose the CEO's very limited rationality. What the Bureau of Arts & Culture values is not what the White House is soon to supremely value.