Back in 2018, the American conceptual artist Justin Lieberman launched a petition demanding that the painter Jon McNaughton be selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. McNaughton, an artist who has dedicated his entire painterly practice to the worshipful depiction of conservative political figures and all things MAGA, “is the artist most suited to represent the United States,” wrote Lieberman. “It makes perfect sense that a world renowned oil painter of beautiful landscapes and history paintings of political and religious symbolism should represent America in the premiere exhibition of art in the entire world.”

Back then, Lieberman’s gesture was a provocation to an art world still in meltdown mode after the trauma of the 2016 election. Beyond all the talk of “literal fascism,” the reason behind this panic was fundamentally aesthetic: Trump is trashy. The purpose of the art world is to reflect the ruling class’s belief in its own refinement and sophistication; to be governed by a man of vulgar taste is an unbearable calamity. At the same time, this elite aesthetic contempt also propelled the 45th president’s popularity among those dismissed as “deplorables.” Supporting him became a way of giving the middle finger to those who wield power over and look down upon ordinary Americans. 

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