Thirty years ago, before he made his foray into politics, Donald Trump had this crazy idea to create the most opulent, over-the-top casino the world had ever seen. He set his sights on Atlantic City, New Jersey; outbid rivals to purchase a monstrosity called the Taj Mahal; and slapped his name on the front for good measure.
At a cost of almost $1 billion, the Trump Taj Mahal was as outrageous as both of its namesakes. Trump ordered an ornate crown of onion domes to rest on top, a pair of two-ton concrete elephant statues, and 17 crystal chandeliers to hang within his gambling chapel. The whole thing was too big for its britches and seemed destined to fail. A little more than a year after opening in 1987, the Trump Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy. On October 10, 2016, it closed its doors for good.
But the Trump Taj Mahal is being rebirthed by artist Peter Tunney, whose "Excerpts From the Taj Mahal (The Truth Always Happens)" explores the opulence, grandeur, and illusions of what was once arguably the most flamboyant casino, built by a goon who would one day become president of the United States.
“Here was the idea: Make the world’s largest golden-plastic carnival of crap with the most slot machines in the world, borrow a billion dollars in 1990 at 14 percent interest, and think you’re gonna kill it. Probably not your greatest idea ever," Tunney says.
"The truth always happens,” he adds. "It ends up in the garbage can.”
Tunney, who runs the gallery the Peter Tunney Experience at Wynwood Walls, has taken on the task of recycling Trump’s trash into pieces of art, in the process turning his gallery into something of an homage to the Taj.
"Excerpts From the Taj Mahal" includes salvaged items from the hotel and casino that Tunney has branded with his own aesthetic and go-to slogans such as “It’s all good,” “We live in a beautiful world,” and “Don’t panic.” Among the items are marquee light boxes, torn wallpaper, and construction blueprints.
"Every square inch of the place was laid out in these plans," Tunney says. "And it never worked. It was just a slow grind to the dumpster and basically didn’t serve anybody in any way."
But the artist is most excited about the 15-foot chandelier, with 25,000 to 30,000 pieces, which Tunney's team is slowly reassembling.
"No one ever took one of these chandeliers down, let alone put it back up,” he says. "It’s been hanging there since the day Donald Trump ordered it to the Taj Mahal. As it turns out, it goes from the ceiling there to the floor of my gallery.”
Peter Tunney's "Excerpts From the Taj Mahal (The Truth Always Happens)." 10 a.m. to midnight through Sunday, December 10, at the Peter Tunney Experience, Wynwood Walls, 220 NW 26th St., Miami; petertunneyart.com. Admission is free.
Dyllan Furness is Miami New Times' "foreign" correspondent. After earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida, he crossed the pond and dove into music, science, and technology from Berlin.
- Dyllan Furness
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