Is Donald Trump, Wall-Builder-in-Chief, a Conceptual Artist?

“I am an artist, but not the artist of this,” Mr. Büchel said. Instead, he said, MAGA endorses the concept that Americans, by electing Mr. Trump, allowed his obsessions to be given form that qualifies as an artistic statement. The fact that the prototypes were designed and built by six private contractors matters less, he said, than the impression that, upon completion, they constitute an unintended sculpture garden willed into existence by the president and his supporters. “This is a collective sculpture; people elected this artist,” Mr. Büchel said.

Mr. Büchel insisted that the petition was not a jab at Mr. Trump’s signature policy-achievement-in-waiting. . Even if the border wall is never built, Mr. Büchel said, the prototypes “need to be preserved because they can signify and change meaning through time. They can remind people there was the idea to have this border wall once.”


Prototype #7, KWR Construction.

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Mr. Büchel is accustomed to stirring controversy. His installations include a mosque built inside the walls of a former Catholic church, a project that created an uproar at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and he has spent years seeking approval to bury a full-size Boeing 727 in the Mojave Desert near Boron, Calif., for an installation called “Terminal.” But Mr. Büchel said he was not playing art provocateur with his quest to preserve the prototypes. “I just see that fact, an objective fact, that they’re standing here, now,” he said. “My political position, that’s not interesting in this context.”

Mr. Büchel invokes the precedent of the ready-made, championed by that pioneer of Dada, Marcel Duchamp, in which the act of choosing an object, however banal — emphatically, in Mr. Duchamp’s case, a urinal — recontextualizes it as art. He also points to the prototypes’ aesthetic…

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