Photographs by Deborah Feingold
CLAIM TO FAME: Joan Baldassano Giordano ’60 is a visual artist who combines painting and sculpting, using media ranging from bamboo to wax. Since she finished her fine arts degree at Wagner in 1960, her work has been seen everywhere from the city of Atlanta to the country of Zambia.
ENCOUNTERING THE AVANT GARDE: A Staten Island native, Giordano always loved to make art, but her Wagner experience gave her a new view of what art could be. During the 1950s and 1960s, faculty at the College had significant connections to New York’s cutting-edge artists. Giordano was especially influenced by Tom Young, an abstract expressionist who taught art at Wagner from 1953 to 1970. Because of Young’s connections, Giordano got to meet New York School artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
GOING ABSTRACT: “It was an eye-opener for me and showed me that art could take you anywhere in the world,” she recalls of her time at Wagner. “I was a realistic painter when I went into college, and was an abstract expressionist when I went out.” She enjoyed the challenges of “zeroing in on color and form and texture, and emphasizing text and stories. You were challenged to push your art forward, become more exciting, and encompass things that are more current.”
A MOTHER AND AN ARTIST: In September 1959, at the beginning of her senior year, Joan married fellow Wagner student Ben Giordano ’59, a business major and executive sales trainee with New York Life Insurance Co. He became a marketing executive, while she pursued her art education and her family life. Just a week after graduating, in June 1960, she gave birth to their first child, Jeffrey. She went on to study Asian art on a fellowship at Hunter College; have her second son, Glenn; and earn an MFA from the Pratt Institute.
MEDIA AND SCALE: “My work is always large, because I like getting physically into it,” she says. She has created techniques to fuse many elements into sculptural objects. She commonly incorporates handmade papers, having learned the kozo papermaking art in Japan; encaustic, or hot wax painting; newspapers; metals; and materials from nature, such as branches and bark, which she finds near her home in the Catskills.
ART AMBASSADOR: Giordano is perhaps most proud of being a part of the Art in Embassies program, which has brought her art around the world. Former First Lady Laura Bush invited her to a breakfast at the White House in 2004 celebrating artists who contributed to the Art in Embassies program.
IMPRESSIONS: “Handsome works that hang on the wall like a Samurai’s divested armor” is how Peter Plagens (Wall Street Journal) described Giordano’s exhibit “Spin Out: Constructions” in 2012. Writing for Sculpture magazine in 2017, Thalia Vrachopolous praised Giordano’s “Woven in Time” exhibit for its dedication to “human dignity, honesty, and fair play.” Another critic writing for Sculpture magazine, Jonathan Goodman, saw spiritual themes in Giordano’s 2007 “Presences” exhibit. Her “sentinel-like flat panels of charred paper … read almost like abstract scrolls,” he wrote. “These flags of the spirit communicate what we know but cannot say in response to our slow, but inevitable, decay.”