Lena Ruseva hoped her art collection depicting former President Donald Trump would cause people to talk, but she didn’t expect the aggression — or the threats.
But the menacing messages Ruseva said she received ultimately led to the postponement of her 30-piece “Trump: Parallel Universe” exhibit, which had been due to debut in New York City last week.
As an emerging artist, Ruseva said she decided to undertake her unique collection dedicated to Trump because everybody has feelings about him.
“People hate him; people love him,” she said. “It’s something mind-provoking. It’s not insulting. It’s not disgusting. It’s not propaganda. I didn’t expect any aggression.”
Her pieces depict Trump in different time periods and settings in what she describes as “something between a fairy tale story and reality.”
In one piece, he’s riding a shark with an American flag draped over his shoulders. In another, the 45th president is an astronaut touching fingertips with an alien in space. Trump is also depicted as a knight, a warrior, a monk, and even a wizard.
Ruseva, who was born in the former Soviet Union, said she couldn’t have fathomed how difficult it would be to find an art gallery willing to display her paintings when she began scoping out places to host her show earlier this year.
Gallery after gallery turned her away after she informed them that her collection was focused on Trump.
Her event manager, Rick Evans, said many locations passed on the exhibit because of the subject manner. But the reason for turning her collection away wasn’t always because of an owner’s personal visceral reaction to the former president.
Several times galleries told Ruseva and Evans they didn’t want to worry about the potential protests and ruckus that the exhibit could attract. “They are scared of crazy people who hate Trump so much that they are ready to destroy property,” she said.
Frustrated over being turned away so many times, Ruseva and Evans decided to find a vacant space to rent. With so many vacancies in New York City due to the coronavirus pandemic, they thought they would be able to find an empty spot to showcase her art for a pop-up weekend event. And after being burned by one landlord in the SoHo area in Lower Manhattan, who simply stopped returning phone calls, the duo found an open space in Tribeca.
Unphased by the art’s subject matter, the landlord agreed to rent Ruseva the space — but he wanted her to obtain certain insurance policies, including a terrorist action waiver.
Then, as they were hashing out the final arrangements and Ruseva began promoting her weekend show on social media, the threats started rolling in, scaring the landlord, Evans, and Ruseva.
Ruseva said she was bombarded with aggressive messages from people who said they wanted her out of the country or dead. Evans said he received some threatening messages, too, prompting him to bring in the police.
Evans said the police officers told them they were crazy to do the show, but also said they understood why they wanted to hold it. They told Evans they would station a patrol car up the street from the building where the exhibit was housed, enabling a quick response in the event violence were to break out, but they couldn’t dedicate more resources.
Evans said the threats and the possibility of a protest turning violent “became too much” and the show was canceled, just 12 hours before the doors were scheduled to open.
Ruseva scrambled to send more than 500 emails and hundreds more text messages to people who had said they planned to attend the opening.
“The show was canceled over fear,” Evans said. “We canceled it over everybody’s safety.”
Despite the attempt by law enforcement to assure them that “probably” nothing would occur, Evans said the pair didn’t like their odds.
“I don’t like the word ‘probably,’” he said. “You only need one lunatic.”
Both Ruseva and Evans are frustrated by the pushback and threats due solely to the subject of the art.
But they’re not giving up hope yet. The two have received support from conservatives and several political groups, such as the Young Republicans Club of New York, and they are determined to find a new venue where it’s safe to put on their art show.
Said Ruseva: “The more pressure I get, the more stubborn I become.”
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