Artists Give Voice To Political Concerns In 'Inauguration Nation'

The inauguration of the nation's newest president has already sent artists to their studios to turn their concerns into art. New Haven's Kehler Liddell Gallery has gathered some of that art for its exhibit "Inauguration Nation," now on the walls and will have an open house on inauguration day, Friday, Jan. 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"I wasn't going to watch it anyway. I couldn't," said co-curator Tracey Scheer. "I want the gallery to be a place of fellowship."

After the election, Scheer and Tom Edwards, who teaches art at Central Connecticut State University, put out a call to artists for political work. Scheer said none of the artists who entered were excited about the new administration. "We were open to it but it didn't happen," she said.

The 36 artists in the show take to task all aspects of the GOP agenda: tighter control of abortion rights, less control of gun ownership, distrust of Muslims and immigrants, the president-elect's disregard for facts and obsession with Twitter, and other subjects. Many items have adults-only motifs, titles and slogans. A few pieces, condemning easy access to guns, have been shown at Kehler Liddell before, in an exhibit in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre.

A striking piece, by Adam Niklewicz, wasn't created for the exhibit but was painted in 1987, when Niklewicz was a graduate art student. A friend gave him a copy of "The Art of the Deal" as a gag gift. He read a few chapters and decided the book's author was a vain poser. He painted him standing on stacks of money in the garish, overblown costume of a 19th-century Polish aristocrat, a legend in his own mind. "He wanted to pretend to be a big man. I tried to illustrate that notion," Niklewicz said. For this show, he gave the 30-year-old painting a title: "Premonition."

Scheer contributed a found-object wall sculpture, which she calls a "folk altarpiece," recalling women who died from illegal abortions. A clay figure of a dying woman — modeled after a gruesome photo in a 1973 article in Ms. magazine — sits in the center, surrounded by nurses, candles, roses and surgical scissors. The piece is topped by an old medical bag full of abortion instruments that Scheer found in a flea

market, under photos of the Supreme Court that decided Roe v. Wade, with halos over the heads of justices who supported it. "I think people forget how devastating it was to women," she said, referring to the pre-Roe v. Wade era.

Edwards' contribution is an etching, "Money Talks," which recreates dollar bills with the president-elect's face and surrounds him with the objects of his fixations: wealth, social media, his reality show, the wall. Another Edwards piece, "A New Bird in Town," imagines Tweety Bird in a "Make America Great Again" cap, his eyeballs turned into skulls.

Mark St. Mary created an artwork out of his own T-shirt, which has the slogan "Land of the Free: Some Restrictions Apply: Void Where Prohibited." "It means America is a great place to live if you're a white man with money," St. Mary said. St. Mary hung the shirt up in the gallery, and speckled it with pushpins holding little pieces of paper with words and phrases that evoke the problems of people who are not white men with money: "stop and frisk," "gender bias," "Islamophobia," etc.

Julie Frankel's pinata depicting the incoming commander-in-chief wears a black armband reading "Make America hate again." On the floor underneath the pinata, pieces of fallen candy have morbidly amusing names: Airheads, Atomic Fireballs, Toxic Waste, Cry Baby.

Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from all artworks sold will be donated to charities of the artists' choice. Some of those charities focus on progressive social action — the NAACP, the Environmental Defense Fund, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center — and some do not, such as Elm City Shakespeare and Music Haven.

INAUGURATION NATION is at Kehler Liddell Gallery, 873 Whalley Ave. in New Haven, until Feb. 12. An open house will be held on Jan. 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. An opening reception will be Jan. 21 from 3 to 6 p.m., with an after-party from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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