Where shock value trumps substantive dialogue

Walking through the streets of Groningen, one cannot escape Donald J. Trump’s glaring countenance. His portrait by Andres Serrano seems to have overtaken the city, as Serrano’s exhibition America & Trump at the Groningen Forum attempts to grip the public with bold images of America’s polarizing figurehead. 

As we delve into the exhibition, we find Serrano’s America laid bare — through his America portrait series, the sprawling installation The Game: All Things Trump (showcasing a ridiculously vast array of Trump-themed paraphernalia), and his film Insurrection that depicts the storming of the Capitol. Here, Serrano paints a polarized nation, with Trump as the ultimate emblem of capitalism, disunity, and controversy. This exhibition forces us to confront surreal depictions of the American dream and nightmare, but the focus remains intensely on eliciting shock and awe. The political turns into the undeniably theatrical.

Serrano, a provocateur by any standard, claims his art isn’t meant to take a stand but to provoke a reaction. This insistence on reaction over reflection is emblematic of Serrano’s broader work, which revels in the extremes of American life — money, power, sex, and violence. The artist could be suspected of evading the responsibility of a clear stance, merely capitalizing on the public’s attention.

When political figures become centerpieces in our public spectacles, can we claim to be engaging with politics at all?

And what is the efficacy and value of such provocations? With a figure as exhaustively publicized as Trump, what new insights do we gain from yet another depiction? Do we not risk perpetuating his influence? When political figures become centerpieces in our public spectacles, can we claim to be engaging with politics at all, or are we merely entertaining ourselves with its caricatures?

This repetitive focus distracts from more substantive political discourse, reinforcing the spectacle at the expense of understanding. Is this the best art can do in an already polarized society — to stir with no intent but stirring itself? This is nothing short of a parlor trick — a rather unsophisticated joke at that.

So, perhaps, there is something to be said for choosing strategic silence or indifference as a form of resistance. 

In the silent rebellion of disinterest towards gratuitous attention grabs, we might find our strongest critique. In refusing to react, we might avoid playing the game that this exhibition seems to endorse — one where shock value trumps substantive dialogue.

To end, I must acknowledge the irony of having written this column. If it incites anyone to visit America & Trump… Well, I hope it doesn’t. 

VALERIA CERNEI

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