Fear and clothing: Why Ivanka reckons this artwork sucks
A weekly reverie on the vagaries and charms of fashion
Ivanka Trump has been immortalised in an artwork currently showing in Washington. It consists of a woman with strong Ivanka attributes: long blonde hair carefully coiffed in Barbie waves, and a conservative mid-calf yet skin-hugging dress paired with high patent heels. The woman is pushing a vacuum cleaner around a pink carpet and the viewers of the artwork are encouraged to participate by throwing crumbs for the Ivanka doppelganger to hoover up.
This hoovering scenario is immediately arresting, primarily because it is so incongruous. For one, by virtue of her birth Ivanka has probably never seen a vacuum cleaner let alone actually manipulated on. Her mother Ivana said as much in a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair. Ivana’s argument for immigration into the US was ultimately self-serving but to the point: “Who’s going to vacuum for us?” she wondered. Americans, she said, don’t want to do those jobs. Apparently good help, prepared to vacuum, is hard to find these days.
But now that Ivanka has relocated to Washington and into the White House and reinvented herself as a statesperson and advisor to her father, while also maintaining her roles as “wife, mother, sister and daughter” (first daughter to all you plebs) she is focusing all her attention on “job creation + economic empowerment, workforce development & entrepeneurship”. Which is why I am frankly surprised that she is upset with this depiction of herself engaged in legitimate work.
Apparently vacuuming even in an art work is somehow degrading, a sexist humiliation. Ivanka said: “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter.” Her brother Trump jnr, using his father’s favourite putdown, tweeted: “Sad, but not surprising to watch self professed ‘feminists’ launching sexist attacks against Ivanka Trump. In their crazed world, sexism is OK if it hurts their political enemies.” And her other brother Eric said: “Ivanka is powerful woman who has done more for women than probably anybody in Washington DC.” The artist Jennifer Rubell in the text explaining the work says that Ivanka is a “contemporary feminine icon and avatar for the complexities of modern feminity”. Rubell continues to explain that she is “a figure whose public persona incorporates an almost comically wide range of feminine identities – daughter, wife, mother , sister, model, working woman, blonde”. Scroll through Ivanka’s Instagram feed with her other 4.5 million followers and you can see all these personas being played out on a public stage – all performed with the veneer and imprimatur of female perfection. According to her father, Ivanka is the platonic ideal of female perfection. Weird incestuous stuff he said aside, Ivanka in fact represents the kind of glossy aspirational beauty and lifestyle that was up to a year ago channelled into a successful brand selling stuff to the general public. Now she is selling jobs, apparently.
But not all jobs. Certainly she is offended by being presented in a women’s job. The kind that only poor immigrants and people doing it for themselves might be engaged with. There is something profoundly interesting in the fact that she is so angry to be represented in this way. The artist says that there is weird pleasure the viewer takes in throwing the crumbs for the glossy, ever-smiling Ivanka to vacuum up, and a strange complicity in the act. I suppose it is the idea of the princess mopping up the crumbs from the cake her kind believe the masses should be eating. And the vacuuming.