Toni Giammona’s uncle threatened to wear his “Make America Great Again” T-shirt to her art “Inauguration Nation” art opening in Westville this weekend. Until she talked to him.
Artist Giammona — whose dad Vincent was a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11 — has made her first-ever video installation titled “High Anxiety,” about the incoming Trump administration.
Her uncle, Vincent’s brother, is a Trump supporter coming up this weekend to see her piece in “Inauguration Nation,” the blunt and serious yet still fun and frolicsome show of protest art that has just gone up at the Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville.
The low-key but real Giammona family drama — and the question of what protest art aims for and actually accomplishes — will all be part of “Inauguration Nation,” the show that artists Tom Edwards and Tracey Sheer organized after they put the call out subsequent to Election Day.
On Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be an open mic reading beginning at noon, around the time President-Elect Trump is scheduled to take the oath of office. An opening-day Jan. 21 reception from 3 to 5 p.m. will includes a live performance piece called “Society Fuct” — trigger warning offered by the gallery — and an after party at Erector Square, where presumably you can drown your electoral sorrows. “Inauguration Nation” will continue to run at Kehler-Liddell through Feb. 12.
The poster boy for the show is Julie Fraenkel’s papier-mâché Trump doll, disarmingly shaped but with a Nazi-esque “Make America Hate” again armband.
If you buy him, 20 percent of the purchase price will go to a local charity of the artist’s choice, said Giammona, who is the gallery’s new intern and who was minding shop on Thursday as curators and artists put the finishing touches on the installation.
The show consists of paintings, photographs, sculpture, and mixed-media works by about three dozen artists. Some are members of the Kehler-Liddell collective gallery, like Frank Bruckman. Others are locals but not members, like Mohammed Hafez, who has constructed a 3-D installation of what looks like a dictator’s golden bathroom fixtures. There are also a number, like Giammona, new to showing in town.
While the exhibition is heavy on various takes on the American flag and often blunt and predictive of certain doom, there are more subtle pieces as well. Many are enigmatic, like Gar Waterman’s all-purpose ray gun and Silas Finch’s book-shaking machine.
As an artist new to New Haven and still in school, 21-year-old Giammona said she was thrilled to be included. Having taken off a year from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Giammona moved with friends to New Haven in the late fall. In the search for an internship she Googled “art galleries,” reached Kehler-Liddell, and was offered the job at the first interview.
Not only a job, but the opportunity to help organize and hang “Inauguration Nation,” which was then percolating, and learn from that work. She also had the chance to submit work to the show.
Giammona has an interesting perspective on the show, which she termed “beautiful” — and yet which also “in its way is mocking patriotism.”
For ten years she attended America’s Camp, a project run for the kids of first responders who died in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
The woman who organized that camp, Traci Molloy, introduced art projects one year, Giammona recalled, and Giammona said, “this is it.” She knew then that art would be her career.
Most of the kids did work on themes of patriotism or loss. “I was more into loss,” Giammona recalled, describing one project, a watercolor she created, with thoughts of her dad, entitled “A Man Somewhere He Shouldn’t Be.”
Giammona said her father Vincent, a member of Ladder Five, stationed in Greenwich Village, had just gotten off work that day; he did not have to go.
Her own work has been in painting and drawing, but she thinks artists should stretch themselves. So at the School of Visual Arts in New York City she experimented in video and loved it. On Election Day this year she was so anxious she was doing her usual smoking and nail biting and also eating.
“I filmed everything I put in my mouth that day, including biting my nails. I needed to distract myself. It didn’t work as the election results got worse and worse.”
Eventually she edited the tape down to 30 seconds, showing only the smoking and nail biting. When she was asked to submit something to “Inauguration Nation,” she layered in the broadcasted Trump election results, relentlessly announced on a soundtrack by cable anchors Wolf Blitzer and Brian Williams.
While the show does mock patriotism, at least of the simple flag-waving kind, Giammona said she thinks it accomplishes a real purpose.
“I’m fearful for our country. I’m worried about women’s rights and so much that could wrong,” she said. “I think art shows how people feel. Visually.”
Changing an individual’s mind — say, her uncle’s — is a tough piece of work, she said, and then added that “what I really like about the show is the way it opens eyes.”
Maybe the eye, which takes in so much of the information of the world, is the quickest way to the mind.If that’s so, then protest art, a cousin to agit-prop and propaganda, is more potent than we think.
While she was gallery-sitting the other day, for example, “two guys came in, and looked at everything and told me, ‘What a great show,’” Giammona said. “I don’t know their views but it must have had some impact.”
As to her own family, including her Trump-supporting uncle, who are coming up this weekend, Giammona said that on consultation with her, while the uncle invoked “free speech,” he decided, she said, to wear a different T-shirt.
“He loves me too much to wear it.”