He’s just not that into you. That would appear to be the upshot of a kiss shared by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as imagined by a street artist in Lithuania last week. Photos of the lip-locking mural featuring the Russian President and the Republican frontrunner for the White House have gone viral over the past few days. At first glance, the image (which sprawls across the back of a BBQ restaurant in the Baltic capital Vilnius) lampoons the curiously flattering relationship that has emerged between Putin and Trump, following complimentary remarks that each has made about the other in recent months.

Seizing on Putin’s praise of Trump as “bright and talented” and Trump’s reciprocating estimation of Putin as “a leader, unlike what we have in this country”, the mural appears amusingly to turn up the passion of their mutual regard into a moment of intense physical intimacy. Or does it? Once the initial shock has passed of seeing such testosterone-fuelled survivors of Cold War tension kissing, a closer look at the mural reveals a level of subtle political commentary that cuts against the superficial sensation.

Many commentators on the image, which was created by the Lithuanian artist Mindaugas Bonanu, have noted the similarities between it and a famous image by the Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel that was painted in 1990 on a fragment of the Berlin Wall: the East German leader Erich Honecker kissing the Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev. But where Vrubel’s work was based on an actual photograph of Brezhnev and Honecker embracing in 1979, the new Lithuanian mural of Putin and Trump is a subversive fantasy and cleverly undermines the fraternal tenderness captured in the Berlin Wall image.

Unlike Brezhnev and Honecker’s more relaxed and convincing canoodle, the one shared by Putin and Trump appears tinged with suspicion as both men keep their eyes cracked open. After all, however loudly Putin and Trump may have blown each other’s trumpets, the actual compatibility of their political temperaments remains to be seen. Indeed, so divergent are the physics and physiques of the two murals one begins to wonder whether a more helpful artistic analogy might be drawn instead between the Putin/Trump mural and the crude Cubism of Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi’s 1912 sculpture The Kiss. Block-headed and ambiguously unblinking, the wide-eyed figures in Brancusi’s elemental work, like Trump and Putin in the Lithuanian mural, seem locked in a primal and unbending clinch where warmth and mistrust, adoration and doubt, are impossible to prise apart.

100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age by Kelly Grovier is published by Thames & Hudson.

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