One of the biggest stars of last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference was a golden idol of Donald Trump. It was at least the shiniest. The stainless-steel sculpture is a life-size depiction of the 45th president, holding a copy of the Constitution and wearing shorts fashioned after the American flag.
The work, titled We the People aka Trump and His Magic Wand (2019), is credited to artist and Trump fan Tommy Zegan. But while Trump campaigned on saving American jobs, it turns out that not only was the sculpture manufactured in China, it was conceived in part by a Mexican artist. Jose Mauricio Mendoza has revealed that he shares equal credit for the work, which was based on Trump bobblehead dolls, with Zegan.
Mendoza just stayed in the shadows so his Mexican heritage wouldn’t detract from the sculpture, he has said. “I was the architect of this,” Mendoza told Politico’s Playbook. Racism would have prevented Trump fans from buying a sculpture made by a Mexican, he said. “No one is going to buy ‘Jose’ stuff, at least not a Donald Trump statue.”
Indeed, Mendoza makes a momentary appearance in a video at the bottom of the page devoted to Trump statuary on Zegan’s website, titled “Amazing Donald Trump gold chrome plated statue for $15 million, undisclosed location.” There, he is credited as “art director and co-founder.”
After its star turn at the conference, the work was listed for sale on eBay, where the current bid is $50,200. (“Nothing says ‘the party of Christian values like worshiping a golden idol,” quipped the Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, who pointed out that the shape of the stage echoed a symbol used on some Nazi uniforms, but that’s another story for another day.)
Mendoza said he felt duty bound to correct the record. “It would have been best to say nothing,” he told Artnet News. “When you start fabricating things like that you’ve gone a little too far. I’m not going to get myself in a bind with this one. We can’t make the public believe it was created in Mexico.”
The piece was manufactured not in Mexico, as Zegan has claimed, but at Shijiazhuang D & Z Sculpture Co., in China, Mendoza said. He provided Artnet News with a short video of the sculpture in a courtyard, with banners with Chinese characters in the background, to substantiate his claim.
Mendoza, it turns out, pretty much takes credit for Zegan’s entire image. “I’m branding Tommy Zegan,” he said. “Every word on his website is by me. Every image. I can change it at will. The phone number is my number. There has to be somebody doing the work. It bothered me that my name wasn’t mentioned. He’s spinning the story in the wrong direction. He could at least mention me.”
Considering Trump’s ideas about China and Mexico, it’s a little strange, isn’t it, where the sculpture was made, and who dreamed it up?
“I never fell for the comment about the Mexicans,” Mendoza said. “I know I get in trouble for this but I admire Trump.”
“Yes, I know he says things off the wall. He’s not sensitive. But he’s like an uncle that is that way but you gotta admire the guy. He gets things done. You know what he’s thinking. I like Biden too. But Biden can tell you one thing and he’ll do something else. Trump, he commits himself and he does it.”
OK, but why not have the statue made in the US?
“It’s just economics,” Mendoza said. “It would have cost us four times as much to make that statue here. Our first choice was the United States but we called around and it was so expensive. Now we’re in a position where we can make them in the US and that’s where we’re headed, so instead of taking three months, including a month shipping on a boat, we can get everything done in six weeks.”
If you’re thinking of outbidding the current aspirants on eBay, there’s one thing you might want to know: Because the sculpture can be easily damaged, Zegan’s website points out, it must be handled with kid gloves. Remind you of anyone?
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.