Vet Museum opens last South Loop exhibit
"War Made A New Me" inspired by aftermath of artist's scarring deployment
06/06/2012 10:00 PM
In the beginning of April, the Chicago Park District agreed to extend the National Veterans Art Museum’s use agreement, allowing it to remain at its current location until the end of November. With the new location still uncertain, the museum began planning new exhibits.
And so, on Memorial Day, the museum opened a new mural installation “War Made A New Me,” by Dominic Fredianelli. Painted on site, the mural draws a contrast between the idealized conception of war soldiers have before going into combat and the less glamorous realities the veterans have to face when they return to civilian life.
For the museum, the opening of the mural marks a major milestone. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the last exhibit to open at the South Loop location.
Dominic Fredianelli is a Michigan-based artist and a National Guard veteran. He was one of the subjects of Where Soldiers Come From, a 2011 documentary that followed a group of friends through their deployment in Afghanistan and their return to civilian life.
Fredianelli joined the National Guard largely for the sake of the signing bonus and the tuition support. His experiences in Afghanistan left him with lingering psychological trauma. Fredianelli became, his own words, an “anti-social nutcase,” and his loved ones had to cope with his intense bursts of anger. He turned to his art to help him cope.
According to Levi Moore, the National Veterans Art Museum’s executive director, getting Fredianelli to do a mural for the museum came down to personal connections.
“[National Veterans Art Museum Tech Assistant] Susan Zielinski grew up in northern Michigan,” he said. “She knew Dominic. They talked and Dominic agreed to create a special mural for Memorial Day.”
To help cover Fredianelli’s transportation and art supplies, the museum solicited donations. Interested donors could go to the museum’s website and donate anywhere between $5 and $100.
Fredianelli arrived in Chicago a week before Memorial Day, while the NATO summit was still underway. Even as, a few blocks southwest, the Veterans for Peace spoke out against the war in Afghanistan to the cheers of thousands of protestors, Fredianelli began to paint.
Museum spokeswoman Sarah Eilefson explained that he painted the walls on both sides of the long hallway that was usually reserved for the more experimental art. Fredianelli used conventional paint for background and basic colors, and paint pens to draw lines and shadows.
The southern wall mural showed a soldier standing next to his mom, with an American flag flying in the background. The mural is full of heroic imagery, emphasizing the ideals of heroism, patriotism and sacrifice. This was the war as envisioned by Fredianelli and his friends before they went over to Afghanistan.
The northern wall is essentially the southern wall’s dark reflection. The soldier is damaged, his brain wrecked by the experiences. The American flag is a twisted parody of itself. And the mother, who looked at the soldier proudly, now looks aghast, almost as if she is unwilling to accept what happened.
The mural’s name, “War Made A New Me,” drives the message home.
As the unveiling of the mural approached, the museum staff had its reservations.
“Memorial Day usually falls on the Monday,” said Eilefson, ”And we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough people. So decided to open on Saturday, figuring it would enable more individuals to attend.”
Moving the opening ceremony paid off.
“The attendance for the opening was wonderful,” said Eilefson. “Probably 120 individuals came by. We screened Where the Soldiers Come From. … Then, after a break, Dominic came out to answer questions about the documentary and his art. It was very well received.”
Overall, the attendance has been good. If anything, the museum’s impending move has actually increased attendance.
“People who were here when we opened 16 years ago are coming by,” said Eilefson, “They tell us ‘I wanted to come and see you before you move.’”
Moore told Chicago Journal that the mural would remain on display until fall. The museum doesn’t have any other exhibits planned beyond that. He hopes that the museum will settle on the new location by then. Until the museum moves, they can’t make any plans.
Moore explained that the museum still hasn’t settled on the new location.
“The competition definitely got more heated,” he said. “We had a number of community groups [from both Portage Park and River East] approach us, nut nothing has been settled yet.”
As for the mural, its future after the move is up in the air.
“We haven’t decided if we want to take it with us,” Moore said. “Dominic might be interested in doing another mural once we move. We’ll see.”