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On Easter Sunday, a tombstone engraved with Donald Trump’s name and the message “Made America Hate Again” mysteriously popped up in the middle of Central Park. Many were left wondering whether the anonymous gesture was intended as a death threat, but it was not, its maker told Hyperallergic, before going on to clarify that the project was meant to alert Trump to his campaign’s impact on the country.
An art piece five months in the making, “The Legacy Stone” was the work of a Brooklyn-based artist who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, requesting that we also refrain from sharing their gender. While this is the first time they’ve executed something so politically charged, you might have seen or experienced their other works, which frequently take place in the public sphere, elaborate projects they describe as “mysterious happenings and strange occurrences.”
One of the biggest questions triggered by “The Legacy Stone” was why it did not include a death date. According to the artist, they left out the date precisely because they did not want it be read as a death threat — also because they wanted the Republican billionaire to see that he still has time to amend and improve his behavior.
“The point of this was really to drive home the message, ‘Donald, look at yourself and what you’re doing. Maybe there’s time for you to change your ways,” the artist told Hyperallergic. “I thought the tombstone was the most appropriate thing to get him to realize what he’s conveying to the world and what he’s leaving behind as his epitaph, his remembrance.
“I was thinking, who is Donald Trump, and what is he all about?” they continued. “A lot of what I kept coming back to is a man who is completely ego-driven, has no regard for other people … He has branded himself as luxury and success, and what I thought could register with him was making a comment on his legacy. He’s somebody who likes to build skyscrapers and get a new wife whenever the old model is not looking so good. I thought it would be really beautiful if I could create a tombstone for him and shine a light on what type of legacy he’s leaving through his recent behavior as a ‘politician.’”
The marker itself came from a local headstone company that the artist found was receptive to the idea; a carver in the 1970s had already embellished it with flowers and a cross, designs from an era that struck the artist as “part of Trump’s aesthetics, with all his glitz and glam and gold.” Tombstones are quite an investment, and the artist received financial backing from a number of individuals, including previous collectors of their work. With the help of a team, they picked up the 1,000-pound stone on the morning of March 27 and drove it to the edge of Central Park, where, at 4am, they carefully maneuvered it on a dolly through winding pathways, keeping eyes out for park officials.
“I felt like Central Park had everything needed in terms of conveying a powerful message,” the artist said, citing Trump’s ownership of the park’s trademark and of the nearby Trump Towers. “I thought Easter Sunday was a poignant moment for self-reflection and resurrection as a new person.”
The stone remained in place for fewer than four hours — likely the shortest lifespan of a Trump-related artwork. The Republican presidential hopeful has been the target of many artists, from a collective that transformed his old campaign bus into a mobile art project to an artist suspended from Facebook for a drawing; from a painter who created a bloody portrait to Hanksy, who launched an entire anti-Trump campaign titled “Dump Across America.” While the artist behind “The Legacy Stone” noted that some of these projects express “appropriate commentary,” they wanted to do something that spoke to Trump in a more poetic way but could resonate just as strongly.
“I think this had a way of hitting him on an existential level and shake him awake instead of me protesting in front of a building or doing a performance piece,” they said. “I don’t know if it’s working or not, but I’m hoping it connects with him a little bit.”
Update, 5/10: The NYPD has identified Brian Whiteley as the artist behind the project. As the New York Times reported, officers last month visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Memorials at random; the headstone store just so happened to be the one Whiteley had visited, and its owner provided his name to the police.
Whitely is not charged with any crime, and the stone is currently in a police storage facility in the Bronx. Known for his public performance gestures — which include dressing up as a clown and visiting cemeteries — Whiteley last year conceived of the SATELLITE fair in Miami and has actually also dressed up as Trump at a recent performance at White Box Gallery.