Leonard Reibstein, Great Again, 2016.
While the country nervously awaits the results of a Super Tuesday that can propel Donald Trump to the top of the GOP pack, many rational people are bewildered about how such an unlikely event has become a reality.
Trump’s campaign antics are directly aimed at the Americans who’ve long been marginalized due to their radical and hateful views. With David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan endorsing Trump, and given Trumps unwillingness to disavow the hatemonger’s praise; it is evident that Trump knows that his demographic includes anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic individuals. Worse yet, he has been embracing them all along.
Perhaps there is no more resounding work of art to express the madness and fear of a nation in crisis than Leonard Reibstein’s witty, yet gravely serious painting Great Again (2016). Reibstein’s work is at once a history painting and an art history painting. The painter juxtaposes Trump with a recognizable Klansman a la Philip Guston, the two figures form a pyramid by touching their finger tips together, symbolizing the creation of evil. Through the touching of fingers they symbolize their creation in the likeness of evil. This imagery is reminiscent of G-d and Adam in the Sistine Chapel, where G-d is reaching out to Adam -indicative of their hands not yet touching- to give him life and signify that the image of G-d is reflected in man, yet they’re not on the same level. In Reibstein’s image, however, the two figures are in effect one and the same, just as Guston’s Klansmen were meant to be ironic self-portraits.
Guston reflected about his crude and poignant Klansmen paintings ‘They are self-portraits. I perceive myself as being behind the hood. In the new series of ‘hoods’ my attempt was really not to illustrate, to do pictures of the Ku Klux Klan, as I had done earlier. The idea of evil fascinated me […] I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. What would it be like to be evil? To plan, to plot.’ (Guston quoted in Philip Guston Paintings 1969-1980, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1982, p. 54.)
What would the late socially engaged artist say about Trump’s persona? Guston and his family of Jewish-Canadian decent were familiar with the terror and hatred that the Ku Klux Klan represented. I’d imagine that his response wouldn’t be too far off from the statement that Reibstein made. The black outlines of the buildings along the skyline says it so subtly.