Monday, March 13, 2017

Trump’s Design Style - Dictator Chic

Old money tends to like to be understated since it has no need to prove anything.  The contract, of course is new money - the nouveau riche - where it is all about impressing even if the end result is an impression of bad taste and an air of déclassé.   Stated another way, it's a case of having more money than good taste.  A historian has piece in Politico that looks at Der Trumpenführer's style that puts him not only in the déclassé category, but a style favored by dictators.   The piece reviews dictators of the past - some of whom met violent ends - and compares them to the style favored by Der Trumpenführer.  Here are article excerpts: 
Every good brand needs a theme and an aesthetic, and President Donald Trump has spent decades cultivating both. The theme is success, wealth, winning, and the aesthetic is bright, brassy, loud—or, depending whom you ask, gaudy and fake. . . . . Architecturally, it’s gilt and mirrors, as in his famous marble-and-gold Trump Tower apartment. . . .
Trump’s design aesthetic is fascinatingly out of line with America’s past and present. If you doubt it, note that the interiors of the apartments his company actually sells bear no resemblance to the one he lives in. But that doesn’t mean his taste comes from nowhere. . . . it also has important parallels—not with Italian Renaissance or French baroque, where its flourishes come from, but with something more recent. The best aesthetic descriptor of Trump’s look, I’d argue, is dictator style.
A decade ago, I published a book on exactly that topic: Fascinated by the question of what makes dictators’ houses so recognizably similar . . . . trying to pick out the features they had in common and what those features said about their occupants. I ended up with 16 case studies. . . . most of them, I concluded, obeyed 10 defining “dictator chic” rules.
The first: Go big. Dictators’ building projects are almost always ludicrously overscaled. In the 1980s, the seriously short Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s longtime president, and his wife, Elena, started building what was to become one of the largest government buildings in the world. They called it the “People’s Palace,” and they knocked down a good chunk of old Bucharest to make room for it. There was a huge, impressive yet hideous facade and, inside, quite intimidatingly large public rooms. The Ceausescus were executed before the building was finished, and even today, it reportedly is mostly empty—too large for an entire country to fill.
The second rule of the dictator look is all about “repro.” Dictators might work in the grand styles of earlier centuries, but they don’t usually use old materials and furniture. Everything is brand spanking new. Old styles add gravitas, but antiques themselves are too faded and shabby.
This leads to the third rule: Think French. There may never have been an interior style quite as lavish as 18th-century France . . . . Sometimes dictators pull from other places and eras—Roman, Palladian/classical and more—but French can always be counted on to say “money” faster and louder than the subtler English antique look.
Aside from France, dictators often seem to draw from hotels (rule No. 4), perhaps the grandest ones they saw at a young age. . . . I reckon Saddam Hussein saw that early Hilton look as the good-life template for the estimated 65 palaces and other compounds—mostly hideous—he ended up with.
Then, there are the materials—rules 5, 6 and 7. “If I’ve only got one life,” most dictators seem to think, “let me live it surrounded by gold.” When you have all of your country’s resources at your disposal, why not? Gold furniture, gold wall decorations, columns with gold capitals, gold taps.
After gold comes glass—the better to reflect one’s abundant opulence. Shiny surfaces, giant chandeliers with glass droplets and giant mirrors with—you guessed it—more gold in the frames. And after glass is marble—floors, walls, tabletops, every square inch of the bathrooms. New, shiny marble, of course, not the worn, old stuff or the modern architect’s “honed” kind.
Rules No. 8-10 are about decorations and ornaments. When it comes to art, dictators, given a choice, prefer big and bright 19th-century potboilers, or their modern equivalents, to Old Masters (too dark and grim) and to contemporary or abstract art (too ugly and pointless). Dictators also like known-value items—things that people will understand instantly, aka brands. If you’ve got Lamborghinis and Ferraris out front, you want the equivalent inside: Aubusson carpets (new copies, of course), Chinese Ming vases (ditto) and bright Versace-style fabrics. Of course, the cult of personality needs iconography, too, and that means pictures of yourself.
If all of this sounds excessive, even fantastical, remember, these homes don’t exist to express personal collecting passions or evolved tastes. . . . . Dictators can’t understand why anyone would go for the genially scaled-back charm of Western Old Money houses in Cambridge, England, or Cambridge, Massachusetts. Why have old when you can have new, matte when you can have shiny, small when you can have huge? There is no subtlety or understatement, let alone irony.
The whole point is that dictators’ homes aren’t for one’s family, friends or private self; they’re not a refuge from the world or the job. Dictators’ homes, in fact, are the job—a place to do business, harangue people and settle scores, all while one’s entourage stays nearby. They are an architectural and artistic means of establishing the power of the occupants, of intimidating and impressing any visitor.
Why does all of this matter? Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people. With its marble-inlaid dining table, painted ceilings and gold flourishes quite literally everywhere, Trump’s aesthetic puts him more in the visual tradition of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, who erected a massive rotating golden statue of himself in Ashgabat, than the self-effacing gray-suited conventions of Western democratic leaders.
This, of course, is a startlingly un-American idea. The Trump look is miles from the architectural tradition of Washington, D.C., a city kept deliberately low-rise in its center, and whose neoclassical public buildings evoke stability and trustworthiness through their restraint. From the White House to the monuments, the American capital was designed to avoid Europe’s autocratic excesses, projecting a message of simplicity, democracy and egalitarianism—precisely the opposite of the new brand in town.

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