Ivanka Trump doing the Hoovering is not a sight one sees every day. However, if you happen to be in Washington DC this month, you can watch a lookalike of the first daughter cleaning, in stilettos, for two hours every night at the Flashpoint gallery.
Ivanka Vacuuming, a new performance art piece by Jennifer Rubell, invites visitors to “throw crumbs on to the carpet, watching as Ivanka elegantly vacuums up the mess, her smile never wavering”.
It seems likely a few smiles wavered inside the White House when the Trump family learned about Rubell’s work. On Tuesday morning, Ivanka tweeted a link to an article about the performance piece and said: “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter.” Donald Trump Jr, meanwhile, chose to respond to Ivanka Vacuming with more acerbic language. “Sad, but not surprising to watch self professed ‘feminists’ launching sexist attacks against @IvankaTrump,” he tweeted. “In their crazed world, sexism is OK if hurts their political enemies [sic].”
While Ivanka may have tried to take the high ground in relation to the artwork, the fact she chose to respond publicly suggests it hit a nerve. Ivanka is far more restrained than her father and brothers when it comes to social media, and does not normally react to every provocation. She could have let the artwork fade from the news cycle; instead she chose to amplify it. Why?
While the inner workings of Ivanka’s mind are an eternal mystery, one imagines Rubell’s performance piece may have touched upon a particular sore spot with Ivanka: her carefully cultivated relationship with the art world. Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, are avid art collectors. Admittedly they sometimes forget this: Kushner failed to mention their multimillion dollar collection in required financial disclosures, despite Ivanka regularly posting pictures of their haul on Instagram. Lawyers defended this omission by stating that the couple’s art collection is purely “for decorative purposes”, rather than an investment.
As well as adorning the Trump-Kushner apartment, the art collection has played a large part in embellishing Ivanka’s personal image. Art dealer Bill Powers, who sold Ivanka a piece by artist Louis Eisner, told Bloomberg in 2016 that Ivanka’s art collection had “become a form of branding” and aside from sharing her acquisitions on social media, she is often vocal about art and her preferred artists in interviews. She has said that Christopher Wool and Cy Twombly are some of her favourites and professed a passion for emerging artists including Wade Guyton, Nate Lowman, Alex Israel, Dan Colen, and Joe Bradley. It could be argued that she uses these artists to paint herself as modern and progressive. Her proximity to the art world makes her more interesting and embeds her in liberal New York society.
With Donald Trump in the White House, and Ivanka standing staunchly beside him as he enacts regressive policies and spouts inflammatory rhetoric, however, many artists have made it clear they have no interest in being associated with the first daughter. Back in 2016, when progressives still had hope that Ivanka might be a good influence in the White House, the Halt Action Group, founded by Powers, the artist Jonathan Horowitz and other art world figures, started a campaign called Dear Ivanka. The group contacted artists who had featured in Ivanka’s Instagram posts and asked them to challenge the White House adviser on her hypocrisy.
Many of them have. Israel, one of the younger artists Ivanka has said she loves, commented on a picture featuring one of his pastel paintings hanging above a dining table in the Trump apartment. “Please stand with artists and so many people around the world who believe that America means equality for all people,” Israel wrote. Philadelphia artist Alex Da Corte was rather more direct about his feelings. “Please get my work off of your walls,” he wrote on Instagram in 2016. “I am embarrassed to be seen with you.”
As well as revealing the fissures between Ivanka’s relationship to the art world, Vacuuming Ivanka may have hit a nerve with the first daughter because it is a striking statement about her most important asset: her personal brand. Ivanka’s key strength has been the fact that her brand is a delicate balancing act. She turned herself into an everywoman who can appeal to liberal working women and stay-at-home conservative mums.
A press release accompanying Rubell’s artwork notes that Vacuuming Ivanka is “inspired by a figure whose public persona incorporates an almost comically wide range of feminine identities: daughter, wife, mother, sister, model, working woman, blonde.” Ivanka has always been a performance art piece: Vacuuming Ivanka makes that uncomfortably clear.
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