David Bowie and Donald Trump, in Clown Form, Take the Stage in Andrew Salgado’s New Solo Show

May 9, 2016 5:47PM

Andrew Salgado’s new show, “The Fool Makes a Joke at Midnight,” includes portraits of two famous men whose faces have recently dominated the news. One was extravagantly liberal; the other is loudly conservative. One recently died; the other is very much alive. Both are showmen: David Bowie and Donald Trump.

This trans-Atlantic exhibition, now at Thierry Goldberg Gallery in New York, is hosted by Beers London. You’re not mistaken if the show’s title reminds you of lyrics from “Sister Midnight,” a track Bowie co-wrote for Iggy Pop’s 1977 album The Idiot (“You’ve got me playing the fool / Calling sister midnight…”).

In the exhibition’s central work, Sound and Vision (2016), the Canadian-born artist portrays Bowie in a Carnival of Venice–like mask—a fittingly theatrical scene for the performer. He’s shown in profile, looking off into the distance, his pensive, almost melancholy expression frozen in the mask’s contours.

However, by popular vote—and, come November, perhaps by electoral vote—Bowie isn’t the biggest fool in this room: That would be Trump, as pictured in Clown (2016). Unlike Salgado’s Bowie, Trump looks right back at the viewer; his stubborn expression, the very set of his jaw, is instantly recognizable. But here, he’s made up like a clown, complete with colorful makeup, a red nose, and a jokey polka dot tie.

Clown is, rather unmistakably, a politically charged work of art. Salgado, who is half-Mexican, painted several other clowns, but in a kinder light. For instance, the sad-eyed clown in Tramp (2016) evokes a measure of sympathy, much in the same way Salgado’s downcast Bowie does in Sound and Vision. In contrast, this iteration of Trump doesn’t conjure much sympathy. Smug and hardened, he’s the same performer we see and hear on the news every day, threatening to build a wall along the U.S.–Mexican border, then make Mexico pay for it.

Viewing these colorful pieces together with the rest of the whimsical yet bittersweet works is something like watching a carnival procession or a theatrical production. In the theatre, as in life, there’s tragedy, comedy, and fantasy. This art of performance, Salgado seems to suggest, can be exhilarating as well as dangerous. Bowie, who passed away in January after a private battle with cancer, was a masterful performer who lived and breathed his own brand of fantasy, to the delight of many. And then there’s Trump, a magnate-turned-politician who has said he likes to “play to people’s fantasies.” His reviews have been mixed, to say the least.

—Bridget Gleeson

Andrew Salgado: The Fool Makes a Joke at Midnight,” hosted by Beers London, is on view at Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York, May 6–28, 2016.

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