NEW YORK — The first exhibit in the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, which opened and closed here last weekend, was a series of a classically styled caricatures of prominent politicians. But instead of a witty caption, each picture bore the derogatory nickname that he or she had been assigned by President Trump on Twitter, including classics like “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, “Lyin’ ” Ted Cruz, and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush. Visitors to the library could enter their name into a generator and receive a name tag bearing a personalized insult straight from the commander in chief.
The pop-up library, meticulously modeled on real presidential museums, was presented by “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” It was designed to showcase the breadth and depth of the president’s Twitter career, which has been a particular focus of the late-night show. In February, the show released a browser extension called Make Trump Tweets Eight Again, which changed the font of the president’s tweets to look like children’s colorful scrawling. The following month, the show’s staffers combed through Trump’s 35,000 tweets for a March Madness-style tournament to decide Trump’s greatest tweet of all time. The winner, from 2014: “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?”
“The Daily Show” is far from the only outlet taking creative inspiration from the president’s micro-blogging habit. Shannon Wheeler, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, has turned some of @realdonaldtrump’s tweets into illustrations. Russel Neiss created a Twitter bot, @RealPressSecBot, to format all of Trump’s tweets as formal statements, while the technologist David Neevel built a robot that methodically prints out the tweets and burns them, with video of the process posted at @burnedyourtweet. In art installations, apps and memes, both new and old technologies are grappling with Trump’s words and their context in the wider world. Artists are drawing attention to this peculiar form of semiofficial communication to highlight the dichotomy of our new normal: that the president’s tweets can be mockably absurd while having far-reaching consequences.
“I think some of it is because they are right from his brain and fingers to us,” explained Jen Flanz, an executive producer at “The Daily Show,” about the fascination with the president’s tweets. “There’s no crowd cheering that makes him say more. This is his thoughts, in his private bubble, and we get to see them.”
“The Daily Show’s” library was a smash hit, reaching capacity the whole weekend and at times drawing four-hour waits outside the venue at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, diagonal from Trump Tower. Fan reaction was so strong that the show hasn’t ruled out bringing it back in another form, Flanz said. (A 360-degree digital tour can be found on “The Daily Show’s” website.)
Just five blocks south of the library, the Austrian Cultural Forum hosts a much more somber reflection of the president’s digital habits. The artist Martin Roth’s piece, titled “In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets,” consists of a field of lavender growing under fluorescent lights. The lights are connected to a small computer, which automatically scans the president’s twitter feed and those in the sphere of his work, from @kellyannepolls to @foxandfriends. (The Post’s feed, @washingtonpost, is one of them.)
The more retweets a tweet in that group is getting at the moment, the brighter the lights. “It is not so important for me what the tweet is about but what momentum a tweet gets,” Roth said in an email. “While CNN and Donald Trump have the same amount of followers his tweets get a much larger number of retweets. So in a sense the light is visualizing a ‘virtual organism’ reacting to impulses/tweets.”
Roth said he was inspired by the Forum’s location so close to the president’s former home. “I felt there was a certain collective anxiety that could be felt in the United States after the election and Trump Tower became kind of this symbol,” he explained. The exhibit was meant as a sort of retreat from this tension, with lavender chosen for its calming effects.
Last August, the video production site Super Deluxe released “Trump’s Tweets as an Early 2000s Emo Song,” a pitch-perfect pop-punk song with lyrics taken straight from Trump’s tweets. The video’s producer, Jason Richards, said he came up with the idea during one of Trump’s tweetstorms about Clinton.
“I just remember thinking, this is so unbelievably whiny,” Richards said in an email. “Especially for someone running for president. Tonally, it sounded exactly like the classic, nasal, suburban Hot Topic mall-punk emo that used to drive me insane, like, 15 years ago.”
And while it may be easy to find comedy in the president’s messages, turning it into art can be trickier. “It’s already difficult to take nonmusical phrases and arrange them in a way that has some form of rhythmic and melodic repetition,” said Nick Lutsko, who wrote the song. “It doesn’t help that his syntax is borderline nonsensical.”
Back at “The Daily Show” library, it seemed that many of the attendees were having an equally hard time following the president’s writings. “It’s amazing to pull together everything he’s said and try to make sense of it,” said visitor Kevin Jordan-Deen. “That’s impossible,” he added with a laugh.
Forcing viewers to face up to these words was all part of the idea. “When you’re in the library, you’re surrounded by his tweets,” said “Daily Show” supervising producer Ramin Hedayati, whose digital expansion team was behind this exhibit. “You can’t just click to another tab, or read it and put your phone away like you would when you’re just reading his feed. In the library, you have to confront the reality that he has said all these things, and he is now the president.”