Wormburner

What happens when an artist who doesn't play golf takes on the presidents who do
Harmony Korine Wormburner Reagan 1

Light / Dark

The first president I didn’t play golf with was Dwight Eisenhower. I was 2, but I’d heard good things about him. Ike was the beginning of a long line of U.S. presidents with whom I haven’t played golf. I don’t hold this against any of them. Given the choice, I wouldn’t play golf with me either.

I bring this up because we’re featuring the paintings of some guy named—Jesus, of all things—Harmony, who has created a series of portraits of presidents playing golf called Wormburner that begins with fat Bill Taft and ends with fat Donnie Trump. I don’t know what your usual game is like, but “harmony” and “golf” have no business appearing in the same sentence when I have a club in my hands.

Harmony Korine Wormburner Richard Nixon
37, oil on canvas, 73 × 61 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever

This does make sense in some bizarre way, however, since Harmony, whose last name is Korine, doesn’t play golf and has given no indication that he plans to take our cursed game up. So when it came to depicting golfing presidents, he was utterly free of the burden of excessive knowledge. I can speak with some personal experience when I say that there is a certain liberation that comes with doing something just for the fuck-all fun of it, and, as far as I know, Harmony wouldn’t know a claret jug from a brass spittoon, and if he were in charge of the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program slush fund, Snoop Dogg would be $10 million richer. And I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that.

These paintings were first seen by our team hanging on the walls of the “aggressively futuristic” (as The New York Times called it) Roger Ferris–designed clubhouse at The Bridge Golf Club out in the Hamptons, don’t you know. The club, which is the antithesis of moldy old money, is the creation of Robert Rubin, who, as long as we’re talking about all the shit we’re not, is not the Bob Rubin who was the secretary of the treasury when Bill Clinton was playing presidential golf with his trusty foot wedge. Our Bob Rubin has a bit more taste. And a better swing.

Painting isn’t the only thing Harmony does. Probably isn’t even the best thing. A writer and director of movies, his most recent release was The Beach Bum, in 2019. It’s the assiduously hedonistic tale of Moondog, played with Stanislavski-like devotion by Matthew McConaughey, who writes the “next great American novel” to fulfill the terms of his late wife’s will and inherit something on the order of $50 million, which he converts into bales of cash that he then treats to a Viking burial in a sailboat just off Mallory Square in Key West. The film, which also stars Snoop Dogg as Lingerie, Jimmy Buffett as himself, Martin Lawrence as Captain Wack and Isla Fisher as the deceased, is either a cult classic or the reason why McConaughey can never run for public office in the state of Texas. 

There is actually a golf scene in the movie, where Moondog is talking to his lawyer, that appears to have been filmed on location at Key West Golf Club. “As your forever agent, I feel obliged to be truthful with you at all times,” says the lawyer, chomping on a white golf tee. “You have pissed away your talent on women and booze and total excess.” To which Moondog replies, “All those things, that’s what feeds the juices up here in the nugget, through my loins, up the Autobahn to my spirit and mind.” Kind of Bagger Vance on ecstasy.

So what possessed Harmony Korine to paint a bunch of presidents playing golf? He lived out one of Moondog’s deleted scenes: “I had been waylaid on a houseboat in Siesta Key, eating nacho chili cheese dogs. I was listening to the Ferlin Husky song ‘Wings of a Dove.’ It was raining, I had a BB gun in my lap and I was stuck alone with one dusty volume of Encyclopedia Britannica that my parents had ordered from some Mormons in 1982. I opened it up to a picture of Richard Nixon playing golf. I realized that all the presidents play golf for some reason. It felt like a moment of pure revelation. The presidents will never stop golfing. Fore!”

Harmony Korine Wormburner Barack Obama
44, oil on canvas, 73 × 61 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner John F Kennedy
34, oil on canvas, 73 × 60 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner George W Bush
43.2, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner Ronald Reagan
40.2, oil on canvas, 73 × 60 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner Donald Trump
45, oil on canvas, 73 × 61 ½ inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner Warren G Harding
29, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner Gerald Ford
38, oil on canvas, 72 × 61 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever
Harmony Korine Wormburner Dwight Eisenhower
34, oil on canvas, 73 × 60 inches
© Harmony Korine, courtesy Gagosian, photo: Rob McKeever