Robert Mueller may not have succeeded in bringing Donald Trump to justice yet, but for a fleeting few hours Friday night, the shadowy art collective Indecline did what millions of people in the US and beyond have dreamed of doing since November 2016: they put Trump behind bars.
It may not have been the actual maximum security prison of our collective dreams, but Indecline — most recently known for surreptitiously staging a graveyard at Trump’s Bedminister Golf Course, hanging a troupe of “Ku Klux Klowns,” and previously for planting naked Trump statues in multiple cities during the 2016 election — managed to stage a prison cell installation, dubbed “The People’s Prison,” in a suite on the third floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower next to Columbus Circle. The work was installed in less than 24 hours, entirely undercover, and without the knowledge of hotel employees, who unwittingly helped carry all of the props and equipment to the room.
“This is a Trojan Horse project,” an Indecline spokesman who wished to remain anonymous told Hyperallergic. “We wanted to do something in the belly of the beast,” he continued, referring to the Trump-owned property that hosted the one-night show. The group was also adamant that it would leave without a trace, that “when we leave this will not create a problem for the hotel and its employees.” The employees the spokesman continued, “are not the problem. They just work here.”
Hyperallergic has contacted Trump Hotels for comment, but received no response.
Indecline crammed the suite’s standard furniture and wall art into the bedroom, dismantling as much as they could, and covering the walls in wallpaper made to look like cracked concrete. The only remaining trace of the Trump design touch was the plush, wall-to-wall carpeting, the likes of which my feet haven’t sunk into since 1993.
Planted in the suite’s living room was a man who looked eerily like the 45th President of the United States. “Trump” was handcuffed to a chair inside a prison cell built just for the occasion, dimly lit by a chandelier, and surrounded by a miniature cemetery of McDonalds wrappers. The installation also included blankets for the family of rats with whom he shared his cell — yes, they were live rats. On the wall behind “Trump,” rendered in dripping red paint as if written in blood, was a warning: “Rats will eat anything, even their rat king.” The room was dim, but the prisoner’s orange skin seemed to glow with its own light source.
“We’re winning and they don’t want to see we’re winning,” the Trump figure screamed, rattling his cage, “Make America Great Again” hat, and extremely long red tie. (The performer was not an Indecline member, but a hired actor.)
Visiting the short-lived installation was like going through a political haunted house, or a very specialized zoo where the featured monster is the leader of the free world. “Trump” bragged that he “was the first to have a cover charge” and went on a long tirade about Hillary Clinton’s declining health, how much world leaders love him, and how America has more jobs than ever.
Surrounding the one-man prison cell were portraits rendered on American flags, burned and tattered at the edges, each illuminated with its own individual lamp. Indecline worked with 12 artists — including Molly Crabapple, Ann Lewis, LMNOPI, and the Panic Collective — to create the portraits of 12 artists and activists from across history, including Muhammad Ali, Leonard Peltier, Angela Davis, Hunter S. Thompson, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and even more contemporary figures like Erica Garner and Edward Snowden. Interviews with each of the portrait subjects played for the duration of the show over a background soundtrack of strangely relaxing ambient music.
All of the figures in the portraits, an Indecline spokesman told Hyperallergic, are “activists and fighters that we look up to. Activists that made a difference and made a good point. He has to sit here with the people who actually made a difference.” The spokesman continued: “Everyone on these walls fought to make this flag stand for something greater than it does currently under the Trump administration … they’re the ones who should be regarded as historical figures.”
Indecline plans to re-stage the exhibition this month at Gallery 30 South in Pasadena, California, at which time the flags will be sold, with the proceeds going to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Native American Rights Fund.
Out of all their Trump-related projects, Indecline believes that “The People’s Prison” is “by far the most vicious blow to him,” the group’s spokesperson said. “Because we’re on his turf, we’re in his house, we’re on his property. Playing around on the outskirts of his property was one thing, but actually coming through these doors…under his nose. These are the kinds of things that will get under his skin.”
It’s also why, the spokesman said, the collective only let a small group of press visit the room between 7pm and 10pm on Friday night. It was worth it for Indecline to have that documentation, but not for them to risk being found or having the general public try to visit. Getting in and out without anyone from the Trump businesses noticing was part of the point.
The Indecline spokesman clarified that, while the collective understands that “these aren’t going to get him impeached,” it’s the collection of the actions and artworks — “the bigger body of work” — that the group hopes will inspire Americans to fight back.
The group’s spokesperson added: “You don’t want to look back on the years that a guy like Trump was in office and feel like, ‘what were you doing to help create the fight for the next generation?’”