Times Square is a metaphor for an America in a decadent and conflict filled phase dominated by overblown symbols of corporate power, Coca Cola, Budweiser, and others. Donald Trump, the overseer of this land, floats above the crowd in a huge, fragile, transparent balloon, which according to critic Donald Kuspit “will burst at any moment.” Appearing in profile like a visage on coins minted by some forgotten Roman emperor, Trump simultaneously recalls the classical deus ex machina and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; that is to say both tragedy and comedy. A jingoist Uncle Sam tethers his and a second balloon — blank, as Trump is a one man band — by a slender, tenuous, and easily ruptured restraint.
Times Square here is a theatre of the absurd, lit with garish colors, bright lights, flickering ever-changing images, and populated with an assortment of updated Hieronymus Bosch characters transformed by popular culture. It is a 24-hour street carnival and a never-ending parade.
Don Perlis’ first public exhibition was at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971 (22 Realists). Subsequent shows of his work, though all comprised of narrative paintings, have varied widely in theme — from gritty urban dramas (many of them taking place in the New York subways) to highly erotic works sparked by contemporary Latin-American fiction writers such as Gabriel Garcia Márquez. More recently, he has focused on intensely dramatic themes, ranging from operatic productions to the honky-tonk spectacle of New York’s Times Square.
Trumpworld continues at The National Academy of Design (entrance at 5 East 89th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through June 14.