Donald Trump’s signature is compressed and jagged, most of its lines cutting up and down at sharp angles, like stitches over a scar or tremors registering on a seismograph. If you know it is Trump’s name, you can instantly make it out. Otherwise it is illegible. I am not usually one for handwriting analysis, but I think you could argue that it nicely fits a man who is known for mercurial moods swings, and for being instantly identifiable and yet impossible to predict.
The President’s signature has been on my mind recently thanks to a superb piece that Lutz Bacher has installed at a space run by the curator Jordan Stein on the second floor of 3320 18th St. in San Francisco. The work features an alien version of that signature flowing along about 110 feet feet of paper affixed to the gallery’s walls. Bacher (a pseudonym, it seems worth noting) has repeated certain letters and sections, printing it so that it rises and falls uninterrupted, rendering Trump’s signature even more abstract than it normally appears. The untitled work reminded me of an old-school polygraph chart, an expressionist-inflected graph of the stock market (a Trump fixation of late), and Robert Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953), which Rauschenberg made by having John Cage drive a Model A Ford over paint and then paper. (Intriguingly, in its form it also recalls a recent work that Yvonne Rainer has performed in which she lip syncs to a slowed-down Trump speech, which is frightening and slyly comic.)
A great deal of art has been made about Trump since he announced his candidacy two years ago, much of it simplistic and patronizing, mocking or exaggerating some aspect of his personality or public image. Bacher, instead, has homed in on the ultimate symbol of Trump’s authority, the stroke of his pen, which cements his whims and helps further his unending attempts to garner attention.
Trump, we know, likes signing things. “We’ve signed more bills—and I’m talking about through the legislature—than any president, ever,” Trump claimed last month, falsely, and he seems to take particular pleasure in waving newly signed documents before cameras, which has led to a whole genre of online memes that feature him presenting fake messages. Bacher has commandeered that signature and rendered it monstrous, letting it spill on and on, filling the room with the threat his presidency poses in terms of policies that can be instituted with his approval.
But for Trump opponents, there is also a liberating aspect to Bacher’s work, seeing this mark of Trump’s power stolen and used toward new ends. A few days ago, the President was effectively forced to sign a sanctions package against Russia that he strongly opposed. What else, the piece asks, can Trump be made to do with his signature that he would prefer not to?