A Letter From November

Following Trump’s election, we must all prepare for a different world – one that needs art more than ever

Dear Reader,

I am writing this on 13 November 2016, five days after Donald J. Trump was voted into power as the 45th President of the US. Given that such lead times are involved in producing a print magazine, what can usefully be said two months in advance of the abyssal plunge on 20 January, when he is inaugurated, other than: ‘Hold tight’?

If you’re reading this having voted for Trump – and I’ll bet there are a few of you lurking in the art world who did – then know you have helped commit an act of mental violence on millions. I hope you can sleep at night for the distress you have helped visit upon every friend, colleague or member of my community who, days after the election, has wept, shaken with anger, hidden away in depression or dread, or phoned a suicide hotline – not because they are sore losers who can’t accept an election result, but because they are female, black, brown, Muslim, queer, an immigrant or too poor to pay for medical care. Their lives are now under threat of abuse, discrimination, deteriorating health or deportation, either at the hands of policy or the mistral of aggression that is already whipping across the country. ‘We will get through this,’ are words of reassurance I’ve heard said, and even repeated myself. The truth, however, is that not all of us will get through this. And that tragedy-in-waiting, Trumpist, is your fault.

If you’re a US citizen, perhaps you voted for Hillary Clinton because you wanted a female president, or you were voting tactically against Trump, or you are lucky enough to enjoy a comfortable life under the economic status quo she stood for. Maybe you voted for a third party or didn’t vote at all, out of protest or complacency. Many of you are reading this from outside the US: from its anxious neighbours, Canada and Mexico, or from Brexit Britain – the poisoned aperitif to Trump. You may be reading this from another nation under threat from the extreme right – Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland – or from countries in the thick of authoritarianism: the Philippines, Russia.

By the time you read this, you’ll likely have heard dozens of pundits explaining exactly why Trump won, with the same certainty that they told you Hillary had it in the bag. You might have witnessed scenes such as the one I did in my local deli where, the day after the election, a Hispanic woman proudly declared: ‘Trump’s my boss now!’ You will have heard about US citizens considering migrating to Canada or New Zealand – as if Americans can simply go where they please. If you are white, you will be feeling self-conscious about your whiteness. If you are white, aged 40, male, heterosexual and raised a Christian, like I am, then, by the time you read this, you should understand just how far down the Trumpist shitlist you are compared to everyone else.

By the time you read this, you might have marched in the streets – despite thinking: ‘What’s the point?’ – encouraged by the sight of so many in their teens and early 20s out protesting. You will not have been in the mood for jokes but may have smiled when you saw a placard that read ‘Orange is Not the New Black’ and heard ‘New York Hates You!’ chanted by thousands outside Trump Tower. You will have lost count of the number of people lamenting their tardy realization that they live in a bubble. You’ll know that, no matter who loses the demographic blame-game, people can be assholes whether they’re rich, poor or members of the middle class that also came out for Trump. You’ll have wondered how Trump’s gas of lies suffocated Clinton’s appeal to the facts, despite knowing how deeply misogyny stains the psyche.

By the time you read this, you should be fighting the urge to normalize this situation, because it is not going to be normal. You should know you’re in for the long haul and that you’re going to feel tired. By the time you read this, you’ll have noticed the term ‘post-truth’ used daily and will have been scolded by someone oozing seen-it-all-before wisdom that we should give Trump a chance. You’ll have asked yourself: ‘What chance?’, given that Vice President Mike Pence is an advocate of gay conversion therapy, Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, is executive chairman of the far-right news website Breitbart.com and the Republican victory was celebrated on the homepage of the KKK.

By the time you read this, you might have remembered what writer Colin Dickey tweeted about the election campaign back in May 2016: ‘If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in 1930s Germany, well then, my friend, here is your fucking chance to find out.’ You will have regretted the occasions you romanticized life in politically turbulent times that you never lived through. You will be wishing for a time when all you had to complain about was zombie formalist painting. You might think that you’re overreacting, then recall that a female friend was punched in the face in a Brooklyn restaurant by a male Trump supporter the weekend after the election.

By the time you read this, you might be wondering why you’re reading an art magazine and experiencing pangs of anxiety that making or looking at art seems irrelevant right now. But you should know that it’s crucial to keep making art and to keep talking about culture and politics. Use your skills and resources, support activists and agit-proppers, but also keep close to the weird, the marginal, the non-conformist, the irreverent, the lonely, the delicate, the ambiguous, the perverse, the angry, the fundamentally not-you, because the existence of all of this stops culture from being erased and replaced by other ideologies. By the time you read this, Trump may have pivoted into an agenda of love and peace, making me out as a paranoid idiot. But the signs on 13 November tell me you should be ready for action.

Main image: Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to come to the National Mall to witness Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photograph: Lionel Hahn/AbacaUsa.com

Dan Fox is the US Editor at Large of frieze and is based in New York. His book Pretentiousness: Why It Matters is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK, and Coffee House Press in the US.

Issue 184

First published in Issue 184

Jan - Feb 2017

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018