The day after the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic candidate, gave a steely-toned concession speech in which she proclaimed her continuing belief in American democracy. She was near tears; many, watching, wept freely. At the time, her words came across as the wrenching final statement of a figure whose successes, failings, strength and pain had made her, in some ways, an avatar for the unsteady upward struggle of American women.
But as the first years of President Trump’s administration waned on, a different Clinton returned — slowly — to the scene. One more like the candidate Clinton who, responding to a derogatory tweet from her opponent, wrote the cutting and immortal words “Delete your account.” On Instagram, she celebrated the young female politicians who came to dominate the country’s political conversation in the wake of her defeat. She posted photos from her past, unafraid to point out, albeit discretely, when she thought she looked hot. As Republicans in Congress and hosts on Fox News continued to fixate on her, even years after the election, she stayed mostly upbeat and placid, an attitude just cultivated enough to seem like a wink. She had moved on. Why hadn’t they?
And then she went to the Venice Biennale to see the controversial poet and conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Hillary: The Hillary Clinton Emails.”
She sat behind a replica of the presidential desk in the Oval Office, stacked with 62,000 pages bound in thick volumes: The print-outs of all 30,000 emails that she infamously sent from an email hosted on a private server during her term as Secretary of State. For an hour, she paged through them, and read them allowed. And then she put a picture on Instagram, with a caption designed to inflame. “Found my emails at the Venice Biennale,” she wrote. “Someone alert the House GOP.”
On Twitter, Goldsmith — who is Jewish — celebrated Clinton’s appearance at his exhibit.
Hillary Clinton reading her own emails at my exhibition in Venice, Italy (credit: Giuseppe Cordioli) pic.twitter.com/n10eSGcIDs— Kenneth Goldsmith (@kg_ubu) September 12, 2019
Goldsmith, known for his practice of what he terms “uncreative writing,” in which he crafts poems out of pre-existing texts, makes a habit of courting scandal. In 2015, he notoriously read a scrambled-up version of the autopsy of Mike Brown as one such poem, a performance that was widely met with with outrage.
But Clinton’s performance won accolades; Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine’s Pulitzer-prize winning art critic, tweeted that it was “epic.” The House GOP has yet to respond.