In 2018, Berlin-based US artist Brad Downey commissioned Slovenian artisan Ales “Maxi” Zupevc to create a sculpture of the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. It was the first time Zupevc had ever been asked to do something for a contemporary art context, as he’s normally commissioned by locals to create smaller carved items for personal or non-artistic use. The resulting sculpture, which was erected in Sevnica, just outside her birthplace, looks like a quirky tribute to the FLOTUS in a style that one could easily describe as folksy.
Downey’s initial interest in the sculpture stemmed from his own frustration with the policies of the Trump administration, so his decision to commission Zupevc seemed like a natural fit. “Basically, I thought that this is the type of man that [Melania Trump] may have grown up around [or] could have been a brother or a father,” he told Hyperallergic.
One of the peculiar things he’s found is how little connection Slovenians feel to the First Lady. While other local celebrities, like philosopher Slavoj Žižek, are embraced by locals, their thoughts on Mrs. Trump are less warm.
“So this was Yugoslavia when she was born,” he said, adding that she hasn’t maintained a connection to her roots. “She changed her name to an Austrian name and moved to Vienna and pretended to be an Austrian. So she also kind of abandoned her own culture in a way.” Her story isn’t unusual for ambitious individuals who escape poverty or a working-class background with an eye on reinventing themselves. It’s worth noting that her parents have since moved to the US and become American citizens as the result of “chain migration” policies that their son-in-law hates.
Local Slovenians, Downey says, have only been supportive of his project. The sculpture was erected on private land, which the artist says was offered by someone who seems to get a kick out of the work and the attention it has attracted. The project is also accompanied by a film to illuminate aspects of the initiative. Then, last July Fourth, the wooden sculpture was set ablaze — no, really. It has since been replaced by a bronze version commissioned by the artist based on the original.
This project lingers in my thoughts partly because it encapsulates the enigmatic and lie-infused reality of this particular First Lady. She and her staff perpetuated the idea that she was once a supermodel when she clearly wasn’t (the fashion world also ignored her during her time in the White House); she famously plagiarized from a Michelle Obama speech; people raised questions about her supposed fluency in fives languages; and she’s certainly not as helpless as some have assumed. She has also probably accomplished less than any other First Lady in recent memory: her “Be Best” COVID-19 initiative was dogged by critics who found many reasons to ridicule it, and people are already calling for her Rose Garden renovation to be reversed under the new administration.
Last fall, Downey quietly exhibited the burnt version of the sculpture at Allouche Gallery in New York while most of us stayed home obsessing over the election. It’s a peculiar but fitting monument to a figure who we’ll probably forget in the nearing future as we nurse our hangovers from a very long four years.
An extraordinary variety of artists came to Jon Swihart and Kim Merrill’s backyard potlucks, discussing not just their work, but also the events and challenges of their lives.
With A Lion for Every House at the Art Institute of Chicago, Floating Museum riffs wildly on the art rental programs of some museums.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
A Thing for the Mind takes Philip Guston’s 1978 painting “Story” as a starting point to examine the myriad ways in which this piece has filtered into the work of other painters.
An Oakland librarian and a French teacher in Oklahoma City collect ephemera they discover in returned and used books, from photos and recipes to love letters.
Until you’ve seen a place for yourself, it’s a bit of an abstract idea. So why not ask Artificial Intelligence to create your travel poster?
Incarcerated people will be allowed to read Heather Ann Thompson’s 2016 Blood in the Water, except for two pages featuring a map of the prison.
The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno welcomes guests to learn about “The Architect to the Stars” through captivating black and white photography. On view through October 2.
The long-lost painting resurfaced at the upscale Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, sparking the anger of Palestinians.
“Guests in love, please understand — most of the exhibits in our museum are objects ‘born’ many years ago and subject to completely different moral standards,” said the Fort Gerhard museum in a statement.
This week, the Webb space telescope wows, übernovels, crappy pigeon nests, the problem with “experts,” and much more.