CHICAGO — A military veteran’s political art is the focus of “Eric J. Garcia: The Bald Eagle’s Toupee,” a new exhibition from DePaul Art Museum opening this spring. Through a site-specific wall mural, sculpture, video projections, political cartoon drawings and a video game, Garcia examines gun violence, military indoctrination and the experience of a veteran returning home. The exhibition opens April 25 and runs through Aug. 11 on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus.
“Often we may have a narrow sense of what military inspired art might be,” said Mia Lopez, assistant curator at the DePaul Art Museum. “Eric Garcia offers sharp statements about social justice in this country, using figures like Uncle Sam, the bald eagle and the Statue of Liberty to comment on social and political issues.”
The exhibition is co-curated by Lopez and the museum’s director and chief curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm and is a satellite venue for the National Veterans Art Museum Triennial. Based at the Chicago Cultural Center, the triennial explores a century of war and survival, while challenging the perception that war is something only those who have served in the military can comprehend.
“Even though many of us have family members or neighbors who have served in the military, we rarely see the work of veteran artists presented in art museums. As part of our commitment to make art museums more inclusive, we are thrilled to be part of the groundbreaking Veteran’s Art Museum Triennial curated by artist and veteran Aaron Hughes,” said Widholm. For more information, visit https://www.nvam.org/triennial
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Garcia served in the U.S. Air Force for four years. He went on to study art, earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lived in the city for many years. A Mexican-American artist, Garcia draws from his own biography as an Air Force veteran and experiences with racism and prejudice as well as his concerns about gun violence in Chicago.
“I am honored to be exhibiting during the first ever Veteran's Triennial,” said Garcia. “The public needs to hear and see these artistic perspectives and expressions.”
In the sculpture “War Nest,” the artist considers violence’s constant presence in his life, explained Lopez. The nest is made of wooden guns meant to look like toy rifles, pistols and machine guns, and the guns are labeled with militarized conflicts that have happened during Garcia’s lifetime, a reminder of the “inundation of war-related influences” on the artist, said Lopez.
A site-specific mural created on the second floor of the DePaul Art Museum will bring viewers through Garcia’s experience as a young recruit in the Air Force, from his first military haircut to the indoctrination to war. Reflecting on his own childhood, Garcia will include a soundtrack with theme songs from television shows “G.I. Joe” and “The A-Team,” which he watched growing up and would reenact in his backyard.
The exhibition also includes a trailer for the forthcoming video game “Discharged,” which Garcia developed with Steve Ciampaglia and Kerry Richardson at The Plug-In Studio in Chicago. Garcia and his collaborators aim to disrupt the pro-military narrative dominant in mainstream video games and paint a somber picture of a combat veteran’s experience returning home, said Lopez.
“The development and marketing of military video games has been used as a form of recruitment. Eric and his collaborators are very critical of the glamorization of war and the idea of war and the military as entertainment,” said Lopez.
DePaul Art Museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is free. Additional information at http://artmuseum.depaul.edu
Kristin Claes Mathews