Brad Downey, the American conceptual artist who commissioned blue-collar pipe layer and amateur woodworker Ales Zupevc to create the sculpture, informed Reuters the wooden sculpture had been set afire, adding, “I want to know why they did it.” He also allegedly filed a police report but strangely said he would like to interview the perpetrators for a film he is making.
“Rising nine feet from the trunk, the statue is blocky, waving with a hand more akin to a paw. Its eyes are bulging ovals beneath a near unibrow, its nose a pudgy blob. Save for its powder-blue Inauguration Day garb, it looks little like the first lady,” The Washington Post reported in July 2019.
Because Downey, who was born in Kentucky but now lives in Berlin, Germany, has a reputation for pranks, people were unsure if the sculpture was in admiration or mockery for the First Lady. Berlin-based curator Lukas Feireiss told the Post, “I think that’s the beauty of it, that nobody can answer the question: Is it serious? Is it a joke? That ambiguity is the strength of his work, the fact that we can’t really figure it out. That’s always, to me at least, that’s always the power of it.”
The Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana’s Match Gallery, when announcing Downey’s full exhibit of which the Trump sculpture is a part, wrote:
Brad Downey, the author of these works, delved into research of USA’s mysterious first lady as an American citizen. He was interested in her origin and the villages around Sevnica, where she grew up. The documentary Melania is a portrait of the craftsman and woodworker Max who was commissioned by Brad Downey in autumn 2018 to produce a wooden statue of the first lady to the best of his abilities.
Throughout the actual process of producing the statue, he reflects on the destiny of a local peer, who is now living the ultimate American dream. The statue, made in a naïve folk manner, is publicized as the first public statue of Melania, and as such triggered a strong backlash of sensationalism in media with next to no background research, and criticism of the homemade, crafty nature of statue.
One local resident told ABC News, “She is our beauty, no matter what, even here. She looks like she just walked out of a beautiful naive painting.”
Feireiss concluded, “The roots of the tree are still in the ground. There’s something rough about it. But there’s something very rough about the first lady too. To me it is a parody, but at the same time, it’s not. This guy put a lot of work into this.”
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