As Donald Trump returned to his Manhattan residence at Trump Tower yesterday, crowds descended upon 53rd Street and 5th Avenue in protest—and with them, appeared a giant, hard-to-miss, confederate-flag-cuff-link-wearing, inflatable "Trump Rat." Artspace caught up with the man behind the rat, art dealer John Post Lee of the Chelsea gallery BravinLee Programs.
“The original concept for the rat was by the artist Jeffrey Beebe,” explains Lee. “But the project evolved in a way that’s more similar to a film than an artwork in the sense that it started as a drawing but was realized by a large crew of people, including the fabricators (Inflatable Image in Chicago) who were instrumental in the design, and myself—I acted as the art director.”
Jeffrey Beebe Trumpy The Rat Sketch, 2017 via Kickstarter
The project was initiated by a Kickstarter campaign, which was fully funded by 227 backers for the amount of $10,090. With a dose of humor and cautious optimism, the campaign called on artists and the art community to take action: “We are the ones that need to make America great again—or at least as okay as it was last year!” Rewards for pledging included things like an invitation to a happy hour at the gallery, “heartfelt gratitude,” and the induction into a number of “clubs” with names like the “Nasty Women and Men Team,” the “Not My President Circle,” “Pussy Protector Patron,” and our favorite, the “Good God How Did This Happen Club.”
“So much of the art world favors this hands-off idea that an artist sits alone in their studio and no one else is allowed to touch their work, or criticize it, or adapt it,” Lee tells Artspace. Made possible by a community of supporters, Trump Rat does not fit this model. “With Jeff Beebe’s blessing, we were able to make his concept a reality as a team.” The team hopes to loan Trump Rat out to protests around the country.
Lee says 99 percent of the feedback he’s received has been positive, but that doesn’t make the negative responses thrown his way any less extreme. “I’ve received numerous poorly spelled, grammatically incorrect death threats sent to the gallery’s email.” Lee says he’s not taking the threats too seriously just yet. “Who knew there was an ‘f’ in the word ‘threat’?”