In San Diego last October, President Donald Trump unveiled eight prototypes for the proposed 1,900-mile border wall between the US and Mexico. Large slabs of concrete and metal resembled minimalist art sculptures as they stood one after the other, and art critics took note.
In fact, one creative type, Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel, has gone so far as to start an online petition to preserve these eight prototypes as “national monuments” and conducted a sold-out tour of the structures earlier this month.
Referring to the prototypes as “sculptures”, Büchel wrote in a statement that they should be preserved because they “have significant cultural value and are historical land art”.
The artist’s petition comes under a new, non-profit arts group called “MAGA”, following the campaign acronym for Make America Great Again. It frames the prototypes as “land art”, a 1960s movement which used outdoor materials to make environmental artworks, according to a report in The Guardian.
Never intended to be seen as art, the government-commissioned prototypes have prompted media outlets to write stories commenting on the aesthetics of the project. For example, the New York Times asked, “Is Donald Trump, Wall-Builder-in-Chief, a Conceptual Artist?” while Wallpaper wondered “An elaborate parody? We can only hope.”
Each prototype is 30-ft. tall. They were created by six construction companies for a total cost of $3.3 million.
The Guardian points out that the artist’s petition actually furthers Trump’s political agenda, which has always been to build a “big, beautiful wall.”
Can Bilsel, an architecture professor at the University of San Diego, was outraged by this notion of the border wall as art. “The US-Mexico border is a blunt political tool dividing families and communities, as there are impromptu memorials to those who have perished trying to cross it dotting the landscape on the Mexican side,” he said. “How will MAGA’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Petition to Make Border Wall Prototypes a National Monument’ help counter the violence of the wall to both border communities? The risk of preserving the prototypes is to further beautify the border wall and accept it as a ‘monument’, but it also forgets the plight of the real people who are excluded by it.”
The artwork is a sign of the times, according to Roxana Velásquez, director of the San Diego Museum of Art. “These eight examples of an overall architectural form are a profound reflection of the cultural barometer, as they leave an indelible mark on the moment we are living,” she said, adding, “But whether that mark is inflicted or created, depends on the viewer.”
Another group that sees art in the prototypes is the San Diego art group Collective Magpie. Last month, they teamed up with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for a “Border Wall Prototype Beauty Pageant”.
The “pageant” featured students from local universities walking a red carpet with prototype outfits made from cardboard, tinfoil and recycled materials. With a lighthearted approach, each wall explained why they should be picked for the border, based on aesthetics, security and price point.
Even New York Magazine’s Senior Art Critic Jerry Saltz sees the border wall prototypes as art, calling the monuments “perfect minimalist sculpture.” See his interpretation below: