Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel is facing blowback over his nonprofit arts group “MAGA,” which popped up late last year offering tours of the eight border wall prototypes currently on display at the border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Over 25 artists, art workers, and writers have contributed to an open letter calling out MAGA for normalizing the border wall by attempting to label it as an art installation.
MAGA, which echoes President Trump’s infamous campaign slogan (“Make America Great Again”), has primarily lobbied for the border wall mock-ups to be classified as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Satirically positing Donald Trump as a “conceptual artist,” MAGA also charged fees for tours of the site, leaving from the leaving from The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), and promised visitors that they would see “historic land art”.
Not so fast, said the open letter from activists in the art world, as they blasted Büchel, MCASD, and the gallery Hauser & Wirth (a gallery representing Büchel) for promoting and normalizing white supremacy. The New York Times and other media outlets that reported on the tours and petition without engaging with the appropriateness of the venture were also called out.
As the full letter states, “We, the signatories of this letter, want to say it loud and clear that nothing about a xenophobic and white supremacist project, artifact, wall or building should ever be spectacularized and promoted by artists or arts institutions.”
In response to the allegations, MCASD has explicitly denied hosting MAGA’s tours via a Facebook post, saying that the museum was only used as an unofficial meeting point and was unaware of the group’s aim.
“To me, borders and walls can never just be abstract ideas to be conceptualized from a distance allowed by an exuberance of privilege and mobility,” LA-based artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran, who launched the letter, told Hyperallergic. “They are everyday lived experiences that have affected my body, my well-being and mental health, my family, my racialization and mobility, as well as my art and writing careers.”
At the time of writing, hundreds of artists, musicians, and activists from across North America have added their names to the letter.