Earlier this summer, while Lena Dunham was carefully selecting the items in her wardrobe she could part with to benefit Planned Parenthood, her mother, the artist Laurie Simmons, was facing her own charitable wardrobe decisions: Choosing which colors, materials, and words to emblazon on the thongs that she’d been tasked to hand-make and donate to the Brooklyn Museum in what turned out to be a much more glittery, rhinestone-covered involvement than she expected when she first agreed to be a part of her longtime pal Marilyn Minter's pop-up protest art store, Anger Management, which opens tonight in the museum.
“She made a joke about making thongs, and I said, 'Hey! Those will sell out for sure!'” Minter recalled with a laugh of the first contribution she and her co-organizer, the art historian and curator Andrianna Campbell, got for the shop, which now features the wares of over 70 artists, including Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Joan Jonas, John Baldessari, Nicole Eisenman, Rashid Johnson, Jordan Wolfson, and Glenn Ligon, all of whom agreed to donate their work and give the proceeds to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or an organization of their choice—as long as it addresses their anger toward a wide range of issues, from the immigration ban to Neo-Nazis to the lack of support for the EPA. (The latter is present in the shop's very walls, thanks to a wallpaper designed by Rob Pruitt that features polar bears stranded on icebergs.)
Having decided the word "help" alone wasn't strong enough, Simmons ultimately decided to emblazon a portion of her thongs with “resist”—the same word that got Minter reportedly censored when she put it on a flag flying high above Manhattan when Donald Trump happened to be in town. It's now been resurrected in the form of window stickers and temporary tattoos which, along with more stickers and postcards by Jenny Holzer, and heat-sensitive mugs that turn an angry red by Mary Ping, make up some of the shop's most affordable options. In fact, excluding a neon cross sculpture by Jonathan Horowitz that’ll go for tens of thousands, for the most part, each contribution retails for under $30.
The project is quite intentionally a departure, then, from the auction Minter organized with Simmons and Cindy Sherman in 2015, which saw the trio wrangle “the big boys” like Richard Prince and Richard Serra into donating some of their works to ultimately raise over $2 million for Planned Parenthood. “So many artists complained about having a hard time living off their work, because a piece in an auction is a part of a livelihood, and that they can’t afford things at auction,” Campbell, who’s been Minter’s pal not only in the Anger Management, but in marching in the Women’s March and attending meetings for Dear Ivanka, a branch of an art-world protest group, said. (“She’s the curator—I just asked my age group,” Minter quipped of how Campbell reached out to most of the artists.)
Some, like the art critic Jerry Saltz, managed to sneak in there with the artists, too, though Saltz’s graphic t-shirt, which reads “THIS IS NOT AMERICA,” is not as graphic as you might expect for someone who has a predilection for posting provocative images and prefers to refer to the president as “Turd Trump” in his tweets. Unfortunately, though, that nickname was forbidden from appearing in Anger Management; the Brooklyn Museum's status as a not-for-profit institution forces it to comply with restrictions on political activity, meaning that Minter and Campbell had to bar contributors to Anger Management from explicitly mentioning figures like Donald and Ivanka Trump by name.
Minter, who’s been known to parade around the streets of New York with her own graphic feelings about the Trumps, was at first “totally demoralized” by this information. But in the end, she considered the restriction something of a blessing: “It made them more creative, and everything much smarter, because everyone can say ‘Trump sucks,’” Minter said of how the artists “elegantly” worked their way around the limit, like Louise Lawler’s wrapping paper that's printed with the word “unhinged," and Jack Pierson's posters and t-shirts reading ‘Are you f---ing s---ing me?’ which Minter was delighted to report managed to pass legal.
Guidelines aside, Minter, who first had the idea for Anger Management back in February, was quick to point out that Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum's director, is still taking a significant risk; Minter and Campbell have yet to find any other institution willing to play host to the pop-up—at least while Republicans figure prominently into their boards.
Still, the pair is hoping that this first pop-up’s popularity—they’ve both already gotten quite a few requests for Simmons’s thongs—will encourage other institutions to follow suit. After all, “museums and institutions used to do this,” Campbell noted, pointing to an exhibition and benefit at MoMA in 1968 that saw 60 artists, including Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Alexander Calder, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jackson Pollock, all donate their work in support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights group, and Jackie Kennedy serve as the benefit’s honorary patron.
Minter is “old enough” to have been an activist in the ‘60s, too, though to her amusement, she’s “never been called one till this summer.” Those 50-plus years of experience have taught her that now that Trump “is starting to get normalized, and people are throwing their hands up and saying ‘I’m not going to watch the news anymore,’” it means action is needed even more now than ever—even if the “reminders of resistance” are as simple as wearing a t-shirt or button.
Luckily, her fellow artists seem to be right there with her: Of the dozens she and Campbell reached out to about donating their works free of charge, only four said no, and only four of the heavyweights like John Baldessari asked for contracts that have kept their contributions from so far being revealed.
“Some people came late, sure,” Campbell said, adding that new works will keep coming in until the pop-up is set to close shop on November 12, the Sunday after Election Day. “But they’re artists, you know? It’s like herding cats," Minter added with a laugh.
Plus, she and Campbell are making sure there'll be plenty to gawk at, wares aside: For tonight's opening, the pair are planning to wear matching t-shirts by Hank Willis Thomas, which read “All Lies Matter,” and perhaps even a sleeve of temporary “resist” tattoos, which may be cheap, but are definitely high-quality. "I put mine on on Saturday, and it still looks fresh and new—and I have bathed, I swear," Minter said with a laugh. "Twice, as a matter of fact."
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