The 58th Venice Biennale is less than 10 months away, and 25 of the 80-some countries have already announced their representative artists. However, as Nate Freeman recently pointed out, the US is not one of them.
The nomination is the responsibility of the State Department. Recent administrations have set the standard of the representative artist being announced over a year in advance. Of course, this administration, which is led by a president who attempted to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts just months into his first term, is less predictable when it comes to matters like these.
The clock is ticking. The country is likely to nominate somebody soon. So who should it be?
Conceptual artist Justin Lieberman has a suggestion.
This week, Lieberman launched an online petition positing that Pro-Trump artist Jon McNaughton is “most suited” for the role. “McNaughton is certainly a social realist for our time. A painter of history as it happens,” Lieberman told artnet News in an email.
Upon seeing that the country had yet to nominate an artist, Lieberman decided to throw his idea out into the world.
“I saw it as an opportunity to put the selection process in the hands of the people, rather than a cadre of curatorial elites, whose abuse of the system has created a situation in which most regular people feel that contemporary art is a big scam perpetrated on the public,” he explains. “Unlike the flood of readymades, techno-fetishist video environments, and fabricated objects churned out by studios employing innumerable assistants, McNaughton’s paintings embody the American ideals of self-reliance, craftsmanship, and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Based in Utah, Jon McNaughton is often called the most popular pro-Trump artist—a small group though that may be. His paintings, like moralizing Norman Rockwell-knockoffs, feature themes about religion and conservative American values. Trump—or at least a very generous interpretation of him—has been a favorite subject of late, competing with Jesus Christ for the most appearances on the artist’s website.
McNaughton has depicted the president proudly locking the gate of a white picket fence (aptly titled Make America Safe) and peering into the eyes of Robert Muller with a magnifying glass (Expose the Truth). Earlier this year, the artist received a big publicity boost when Fox News pundit Sean Hannity dared the “left” to weigh in on a hagiographic painting the artist created that depicts President Trump clutching a threadbare American flag in the middle of a football field.
Lieberman’s personal favorite painting is one in which Trump is shown helping a young man with socialist inclinations put bait on a fishing pole. Its title: Teach a Man to Fish.
“While the event it depicts might not really have happened exactly as it is shown, the painting remains a powerful allegory of the opportunities we are offered as Americans,” Lieberman says. “ throws the ball into our court. As the artist has remarked about the work: ‘Each of us has the freedom to choose our own destiny.’ I believe that it is Jon McNaughton’s destiny to represent America in the Venice Biennale because his work is the most American art I have seen in quite some time.”
His idea might not be as ironic or far-fetched as it sounds. Next year’s biennale, curated by Ralph Rugoff, is titled “May You Live in Interesting Times,” and aims to tackle the proliferation of fake news.
(Notably, last year’s US representative to the Venice Architecture Biennale was also abnormally delayed, provoking commentary in the press. The ultimate exhibition, co-curated by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, tackled “Dimensions of Citizenship.”)
Lieberman’s proposal hasn’t exactly taken off yet, and so McNaughton remains a longshot. At the time this article was written, the petition had only 15 signatures.