Live art is not common, yet it is the only form of expression that would bring out a real-life perception. Ivanka Vacuuming is one of such artworks, created by an American artist Jennifer Rubell. In the live-streamed performance, a model look-alike of Ivanka Trump is recorded vacuuming crumbs from a carpet.
The art piece, which was showcased at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington D.C. from February 1 to 17, 2019, allowed visitors to interact with it. The audience had a pile of crumbs placed right in front of the three-walled setup, which they would through and watch as ‘Ivanka’ vacuumed them all up.
Each of the livestream sessions lasted a total of two hours, during which time Ivanka repeatedly cleaned the carpet without breaking pace. The model impersonating the former POTUS’s daughter, Ivanka, spent the entire duration of the recording cleaning up after the audience, who seemed to have a blast throwing dirt onto the pink carpet.
Commenting on the inspiration that led to the creation of the live exhibit, Rubell spoke about how a mother’s role has to be jumbled up with every one of her other titles regardless of how much she excels in her career.
Ivanka is, for many Americans, a symbol of modernity; she is a blonde who works as a model, but the most exciting bit is her comical public persona which she appears to uphold with such valor.
In an interview with W Magazine1, Rubell said:
The vacuuming was almost like accessorizing the outfit, complementing it with a traditionally feminine-gendered activity. And then I wanted viewers to be staked in that activity by creating the reason Ivanka was vacuuming in the first place, so that’s where the crumbs came in. It was important to me that the viewer and the Ivanka figure together took responsibility for what she was doing.
Reactions to the performance
Like with any other art piece, the exhibit was received with mixed reactions. According to Ivanka2, Rubell is out to knock out other women as opposed to raising them up; she made her choice.
That tweet which Ivanka posted on her Twitter profile, sparked over 19,000 reactions and these, too, were mixed. While many have taken the performance at face value to depict simple trolling in view of Donald Trump’s controversial rule, there are some people who have waged a serious war against Rubell.
To those who do not consider the exhibit as art, Rubell is ecstatic because history shows that controversial pieces such as hers are what turn out to be the defining pieces of art over time.
Following her tweet, Rubell did invite Ivanka to appear for a firsthand view of the art piece, but she declined. In support of Ivanka was her brother Donald Trump, Jr., who tweeted a similarly disapproving message3 in response to the exhibit.
Donald Trump, Jr. considered the message of the exhibit to be purely sexist. This was in line with the remarks made by Eric Trump, who ridiculed the process of headhunting for the model who played the part of Ivanka in the exhibit. In his rant, Eric termed the portrayed image of Ivanka as insensitive, considering that she had done so much to uplift the lives of American Women.
What do the critics say?
The use of pink and earth tones in her artwork would appear to illustrate soft femininity, even appealing to some. Some critics believe that the negative side of the performance was unveiled by Ivanka when she chose to form a negative opinion of the artist’s work instead of taking it as a compliment.
In her tweet, Ivanka suggests that women should be there to support other women in achieving their potential, in a way trying to offer her followers a reminder of what she has been involved in. If she had distanced herself from the exhibit, no one would have got a negative impression of the art – responding to it actually gave it power.
Does the exhibit hold any political views?
Ivanka Vacuuming is a cleaned-up performance of the modern-day perception of femininity – what Rubell intended to magnify. While the artist’s interest when creating the art piece was not to skew any specific policy or aspect in the Trump administration, she is highlighting the role that Ivanka played in the Trump government.
The daughter of the former president of the United States focused on the welfare of the American woman as the center of her role. She was, on numerous occasions, captioned for advocating for “rewriting the rules for success” for the women.
Perhaps this is the image that would most flatter her legacy, but the artist did not focus on that. In fact, she chose to freeze Ivanka in an endless loop of cleaning up after other people. The exhibit is an image of vintage domestic labor that has been magnified to bring out the nightmare.
Standing in front of Ivanka Vacuuming, one gets the impression that this is a cycle that never ends; Ivanka never stops and the crumbs keep on coming. Crumbs could very well represent the poverty and wealth situation of modern-day economies.
The common person, the majority, looks up to the world’s wealthiest as the custodians of riches and affluence. Due to economic hardships, the majority take loans from their local banks. The vacuum that Ivanka holds in her hand symbolizes the harsh economic forces that swell up much to the loss of the majority.
The Trump administration in art
The rate at which plenty of contemporary artists have Donald Trump at the center of their work is evidence of their ‘love’ for the Trump administration. The public persona of Ivanka Trump is too polished to pass for satire content. Actually, many believe that her image as a mother, white house advisor and fashion icon is rather coiffed.
Rubell is not new to creative controversy – some of her works feature lavish meals captured in such a way as to bring out the grotesque opulence of art-world enthusiasts.
To those who understand this style of art, Ivanka Vacuuming is a symbol of the different classes that exist within populations. Ivanka does not appear to acknowledge the existence of those who are throwing crumbs at her – she keeps cleaning up.
Here is what’s complicated: We enjoy throwing the crumbs for Ivanka to vacuum. That is the icky truth at the center of the work. It’s funny, it’s pleasurable, it makes us feel powerful, and we want to do it more. Also, we know she’ll keep vacuuming whether we do it or not, so it’s not really our fault, right?
Who is Jennifer Rubell?
A daughter of renowned real estate mavens who also collected art, Rubell’s family has a personal museum in Miami, the Rubell Family Collection. In one of her many contemporary pieces, Rubell had her parents in a live exhibit in 2014 in which they fed cake to visitors of the Art Basel Miami.