McNaughton made such an impression with The Resistance (2019), an update of Francisco José de Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 (1814). His twist on the original was to put a brown-skinned MAGA-hat wearer in the position of the Spanish martyr captured by a Napoleonic firing squad. In the artist’s restaging, the squad is a band of masked, hoodied, and stick-wielding Antifa aggressors. Adding insult to injury, one of the activists sets fire to the American flag, an incendiary replacement for the lantern that was Goya’s central light source.
The Resistance, like so much of McNaughton’s art, is shaped for digital consumption. It’s not only that his main mode of distribution is social media; this is not at all unusual for artists seeking an audience today. It’s rather that the Twitter-Facebook ethos shapes the visual logic and tone of McNaughton’s paintings: He leads with partisanship, signals sophistication, and lets the details slide.
In The Resistance, you’re not supposed to ponder how today’s progressives align with the Napoleonic forces invading Madrid in 1808, or to worry about the context of the Spanish government’s 1814 commission of the painting after Napoleon’s fall. Don’t scratch your head over where McNaughton’s brown-skinned MAGA martyr fits in Trump’s anti-immigrant worldview, and definitely don’t go down the rabbit hole of Spanish colonialism’s legacies in the Americas. The name Goya shouldn’t necessarily ring a bell either. Instead, allow McNaughton’s painting to register as “historically significant”—something you think you’ve seen before and know is great—without the baggage of historical particulars. Enjoy how easily MAGA iconography is slipped into the “historically significant” framework. It’s a little bit irreverent, but isn’t it also ennobling? When plunked down in the context of an old master painting, the MAGA ball cap becomes something like the bonnet rouge or liberty cap—the sartorial signifier of revolt for our age.