2016-11-18 22:26:15
Trump and the Arts: ‘Evita,’ Huge Towers and a Snub for Warhol

For the arts world, the question is essentially the same as the one being asked everywhere right now, across the political spectrum: “What will a President Donald J. Trump mean for me?” The answer from artists, museums, theaters, actors, writers, musicians and the movie and television industry is, to a rare degree in previous presidential elections: “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Though he has been front-and-center in public life for more than four decades in the country’s cultural capital, Mr. Trump has left a meager trail to suggest what positions he might take on public arts funding and arts education, along with issues like censorship and economic policies that would affect creative industries, not to mention how he and the first lady, Melania Trump, might decorate the White House.

His authoritarian stance during the campaign — including threats to “open up libel laws” to allow journalists to be “sued like you’ve never got sued before” and a tweet calling for an end to “Saturday Night Live” because of its parody of him — suggest freedom of expression could come under assault in his administration. But then, his actions during the campaign and long before it in the real-estate world strongly indicate that if such expression were not directed toward Mr. Trump personally, he might not spend much time caring about it.

“I don’t see anything apocalyptic with him coming in,” said Rocco Landesman, the Broadway impresario and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which disburses grants to cultural organizations and projects. “The Tea Party has a real grievance with the arts, and when I was at the N.E.A., during the budgeting process, the Tea Party conservatives would X out the budget, and we’d have to fight to restore it. But I would not envision that kind of process with President Trump at all. That doesn’t seem to be his agenda.”

Mr. Trump has been vague about his position on government funding for the arts and humanities and for arts-related education. His hard-line position on immigration has some arts groups with an international focus worried about visa issues, which have already become more difficult in recent years. And Mr. Trump has also proposed reducing tax benefits for charitable giving, which could have a far more devastating impact on the arts than cuts in public money, which has been declining for many years in inflation-adjusted dollars.

In response to questions from The Washington Post this year, he wrote about government arts funding: “The Congress, as representatives of the people, make the determination as to what the spending priorities ought to be.” But he added that he had the “great fortune to receive a comprehensive liberal arts education” and said that “a holistic education that includes literature and the arts” was “critical to creating good citizens.” (Through a spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, Mr. Trump declined to comment for this article.)

Outside of television, where he made a second career as host and producer of “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Mr. Trump has not had deep involvement with the arts. He and his company have donated, by philanthropic standards, modest amounts to Lincoln Center over the past several years, mostly gifts under $10,000, but neither he nor his foundation is known as a supporter of note of any of the city’s museums; the Metropolitan Museum of Art said only that he had appeared at some Costume Institute galas and other benefits. He has been a regular presence over the years at openings on Broadway, where he has said he prefers musicals and saw “Evita” as many as six times. His love of theater even led him, in his 20s, to try his hand at producing, though without much success. (The play, “Paris Is Out!,” received mostly bad reviews and closed after 112 performances.)

Mr. Trump’s primary connection to the creative world has been through architecture, though with the exception of Philip Johnson — whom he hired along with Costas Kondylis to reimagine the old Gulf and Western Building at 1 Central Park West as Trump International Hotel and Tower — he has hired mostly low-profile architects and has drawn criticism for buildings that are either bland or gaudy. The critic Herbert Muschamp, in The New York Times, wrote in 2002 that the over-the-top buildings were at the very least not boring. He called Mr. Trump “the only beauty freak at large in New York City real estate development” and added: “Aggression and desire, violence and sex: Put them together, and they add up to Trump World Tower, undeniably the most primal building New York has seen in quite a while.” That tower, across from the United Nations, also had a fan in Terence Riley, then the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, who called it his favorite new building.

Art dealers said they had never seen Mr. Trump at an auction and had no sense of his taste in art or the degree to which he collects. A 1997 profile in The New Yorker by Mark Singer related an anecdote about Mr. Trump’s effort to have a statue of Columbus slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty erected near the Riverside South development on the Upper West Side. (The statue never came to the city.) “It’s got forty million dollars’ worth of bronze in it,” Mr. Trump said of the work, by a critically derided Georgian-born Russian sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, whom Mr. Trump called “major and legit.”

Mr. Trump’s two brief public turns that concerned works of art were not promising for art lovers. In 1980, he began demolition of the old Bonwit Teller department store to build Trump Tower, and though he had promised important Art Deco limestone bas-reliefs from the building to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, workers destroyed the reliefs. Mr. Trump, pretending to be a Trump spokesman named “John Baron,” later claimed in an interview with The New York Times that the reliefs were “without artistic merit.”

In 1999, after Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani threatened to cut off city funding to the Brooklyn Museum because of an exhibition featuring a painting by the British artist Chris Ofili that depicted a Virgin Mary figure and incorporated collaged pornographic elements and clumps of dried elephant dung, Mr. Trump joined in the criticism. Then exploring a run for president as a candidate of the Reform Party, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Giuliani’s attempt to block public funding for the museum. He called Mr. Ofili’s work and that of some other artists “absolutely gross, degenerate stuff,” and vowed as president to ensure that federal funds would never support such art.

Some beneficiaries of government support worry about losing the relatively small amount of help they get. “We’re all in a place right now of not knowing — I encounter that everywhere I turn, and that’s always a scary place,” said Eric Ting, artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater, known as Cal Shakes, in Orinda, Calif. Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for humanities education and other programs, said his constituents held out hope that government support for cultural endeavors would continue in a Trump administration. Despite conservatives’ desire to shrink the government, the Republican-controlled Congress agreed last year to President Obama’s request for the first budget increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities since 2010.

“It was fairly modest,” Mr. Kidd said, “but given the fiscal climate on the Hill it was a big show of support.”

(In 2014, when he was Budget Committee chairman, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan proposed ending federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, saying in budget documents that “the activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the federal government.”)

While Mr. Trump’s election has been widely condemned by much of the artistic world, parts of the commercial culture industry are cautiously optimistic that the next four years might not be so bad — though mostly because fear of economic volatility might cause shifts in wealth that will be good for places like art galleries, which have already benefited immensely from the world’s concentration of wealth.

Last week in the Art Market Monitor, on a page emblazoned with an image of an oil portrait of Mr. Trump in white golfing attire, Marion Maneker, the site’s publisher, wrote that “global instability and doubt will tend to accelerate the process of money going into alternative stores of value. In plain English, there’s good reason to believe buyers will continue to shift cash into art and jewels instead of financial instruments like Treasury bonds or, even, equities.”

He added: “The wealthiest sector of the global economy will continue to accumulate more cash than it can consume or productively invest. That money will seek a safe haven.”

Mr. Trump himself, however, has often counseled that art is a dubious haven compared with real estate, and he has proved his convictions. In 1981, Andy Warhol created a series of eight black, gray and silver silk screens of an image of Trump Tower, after Mr. Trump and his wife at the time, Ivana, expressed interest in having Warhol’s work in the building. But after Warhol made the pieces, the Trumps lost interest and never bought the canvases, which would most likely be worth many millions today, particularly in light of Mr. Trump’s ascension to the highest office in the land.

In his diary, Warhol wrote of the ensemble: “Mr. Trump was very upset that it wasn’t color-coordinated.”