The Mt. Rushmore of Alt-Right Provocateurs Had a Pro-Trump Gay Art Show
Milo Yiannopoulos flung blood in my direction but luckily I was shielded by a Breitbart photographer. Gobs of red streaming down his camera lens, he was furious. Yiannopoulos was gleeful, wearing just a Speedo, sunglasses and gold jewelry. He devoured the attention that inevitably comes with lying in a bathtub full of pigs’ blood. Everyone’s phones were out, snapping photos and recording while they jostled for a better view. Packed, sweaty and chaotic, you got the sense no one really had this whole episode under control.
Saturday night welcomed maybe the weirdest and most subversive political event in this presidential election cycle — or any. A pro-Trump gay art show called #DaddyWillSaveUs was held at Wallplay’s Gallery 151 at 132 West 18th Street in Chelsea. It asserted, among other points, that the ‘politically correct,’ ‘social justice warrior’ movement has neutered freedom of expression and conservatives are now culture’s 1st Amendment renegades. Another message was that being gay and conservative are not automatically mutually exclusive and one’s sexual orientation shouldn’t limit their freedom to choose any political ideology.
Lucian Wintrich, a New York-based photographer and gay conservative, produced this event with his business partner Ali Akbar, a former political consultant. Wintrich created the “Twinks For Trump” photo series, which showcased at the Republican National Convention. The photos were one of the centerpieces of this event.
“I want the art world in general to know that there is just as much incredible art and insightful statements to be had from the right as there are from the left,” Wintrich said. “Being conservative lends itself to the arts because we don’t have limits. We’re not touchy.”
If a Mt. Rushmore was created to honor alt-right provocateurs, these people would be chiseled into the rock face: Yiannopolous — a gay British conservative political commentator who preaches against the “regressive left” on U.S. college campuses, bathed in a tub of pigs’ blood surrounded by pictures of Americans who were allegedly killed by illegal immigrants; Gavin McInness — VICE co-founder, writer, comedian, host of The Gavin McInnes Show and vocal anti-feminist submitted three self-portrait photographs mocking ‘white male guilt’; Martin Shkreli — the “pharma bro” pharmaceutical entrepreneur who gained mass attention for skyrocketing the price of a life-saving rare disease drug, submitted a framed pill meant to symbolize the art within chemistry and human development.
“I collect art. I’ve made art since I was a little kid, whether music or visual art,” Shkreli said. “The field of art I’ve been obsessed with over the last decade is actually molecules. Believe it or not, I think drugs are art. Drugs are a combination of atoms and those atoms are a chemist’s creativity. We don’t think of art that way of course, but the same way a carbon atom, a hydrogen atom and their bond mean a lot to a chemist, they are artistic and to me they’re like the reds and blues of a Van Gogh.”
Attendees represented an array of political beliefs, races, sexual orientations and ages, but the unifying factor seemed to be a resonance with the event’s message: the feeling self-expression is under attack in popular culture.
One attendee, Ashby Sutherland, 23, said, “This is a very diverse group of people in this room: gay people, straight people, people of all different skin tones and ethnicities. I’m an atheist. Milo’s a Catholic. Those things don’t matter anymore. We don’t care about identity so much. We just want to not be fucked with. That’s pretty much it. I’d never consider myself conservative but I’ve been pushed to the right. People on the right care about ideas. People on the left care about identity.
In a weird way, people considered conservative are behaving more liberally. You have pictures of gay dudes with their penises hanging out on the walls in here. It’s very liberating to say, do and think whatever you want, and the crazier and weirder you are, the more people appreciate it. I think there’s something valuable about that. This is what’s interesting now.”
#DaddyWillSaveUs stirred controversy before it even began. Death and Taxes writer Jamie Peck circulated an email to about 200 journalists suggesting they not cover the event. Jack Smith IV, a writer for Mic, called the charity where 30 percent of the event’s proceeds were to be donated to ask about it, which prompted them to reject the donation. The event’s original venue, Pierogi’s The Boiler in Williamsburg, reneged on their lease agreement, stating Wintrich duped them into believing the event was a Trump parody.
Wintrich’s camp and conservative media outlets like Breitbart point to these happenings as evidence of vast liberal outrage and sabotage provoked simply by differing viewpoints. They claim Pierogi backed out because they caved to an outcry from NYC’s liberal art scene.
Smith sees it differently though.
“This Lucian Wintrich event falls into the contemporary Breitbart playbook, which is generate some sort of publicity stunt, follow the media and activist responses closely, then report on those responses aggressively as evidence of some sort of liberal conspiracy to silence those view points.” Smith said. “Do you see the narrative Breitbart runs with now? Jamie Peck sent out an email no one cares about and it becomes evidence of a liberal conspiracy to silence this event. Dude, we don’t care. We think the event’s great.
They chose donating to a charity as their signifier that this event is noble, and I just reached out to the charity and asked if they knew about it. They said they didn’t. I sent them the Breitbart piece on it and asked if they’d accept the donation, and they said no.”
Alessandra Debenedetti, a partner at Wallplay, reported having the same experience as Pierogi in terms of how the event was represented to their venue.
“This show wasn’t represented accurately when we signed up for this,” she said. “I was very unhappy when I found out. It was a big shock. It was brought to us as satire. My hope is that the takeaway from this is less about Donald Trump and more about anti-censorship. At the same time, we’re not exactly thrilled about what’s going on. Milo throwing blood everywhere was the most unsettling thing that’s happened. They’re not getting their security deposit back.”
Maybe this event was obnoxious. Maybe it was brilliant. Maybe the use of this polarizing, political iconography for shock value was childish. Maybe its use was valiant and deserves celebration. As McInnes put it, “Maybe we’re the bad guys here, but the beauty of the 1st Amendment is it puts it all out there.”
When McInnes wrote in a Facebook post, “The New York Art scene is dead. It has been overrun with fascist nerds who shut everything down that isn’t pro-Hillary LGBT vegetarian gay,” he may have lumped Smith in there, but Smith thinks Wintrich’s coming out on top.
“I think Lucian’s going to win out in this. I think that’s appropriate. The history of art and culture is full of people who are seen as controversial and who, at the time, are dragged through the mud for their beliefs. In the art world, I think the only thing that will matter is that he was provocative. Maybe that is of value in-and-of itself.”