Madonna Talks Donald Trump, Art and Activism at Brooklyn Museum

A panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday night started on an ominous note: “We’re not on the eve of destruction,” the poet, essayist, and playwright Elizabeth Alexander assured the audience, less than 24 hours before Donald Trump was to be sworn in as president. “It just looks like it.” Madonna, artist Marilyn Minter (who has paintings, photographs, and visual art currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum) and the institution’s director Anne Pasternak joined Alexander on the day of reckoning. Their discussion ranged widely – from Baldwin to Basquiat, fear to feminism – but circled around a central concern: the role of creatives and feminists in a time when, as Minter put it, “this is the most frightened I’ve ever been.”

Judging by the sold-out crowd – well-heeled and fashionably late – that attended the event, many shared Minter’s anxiety. Before the speakers took the stage, the sound system blasted bottom-heavy music, and the inauguration loomed like a tornado warning in the audience’s pre-panel discussions. To the right: a man greeted an acquaintance with, “It’s good to be here and celebrate a little bit before tomorrow.” To the left: a conversation about the racial makeup of the Women’s March On Washington, scheduled for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, which Madonna will attend. The dress code at the museum was unofficially business casual, so the singer shined in a shirt emblazoned with the word “feminist” and a sea captain’s hat cocked at a swashbuckling angle.

The evening kicked off with the words of writer James Baldwin, which lent additional authority to the artists about to hit the stage. “The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us,” he declared in 1962. “Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.” Madonna followed this…