Despite Pittsburgh’s famously chilling rains filling the streets last Friday evening, the Downtown area still attracted a dedicated crowd to the Cultural District’s Gallery Crawl. Produced by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, this quarterly opportunity invites members of the public into various art venues and galleries, free of admission. In the most recent crawl, a viewer would soon discover a recurring emphasis in how presentation engages the audience’s interactions. Many of the installation and performance works conceptually rooted themselves within the physically interactive elements; for paintings and sculptures, mental and emotional interactivity too were evident factors in distinguishing a work’s level of success. For all media however, presentation stood as an important lesson: while the most well-conceived spaces created focused viewer-to-piece relationships, it was often hard to ignore the poorer displays, hindering recognition of many artists’ better efforts.
The Greater Pittsburgh Art Council’s bi-annual solo-exhibition Art on the Walls was one such show exhibiting questionable presentation skills. The venue featured artist Seth Clark, whose show of recent work involves a mixture of drawing and collage, depicting abandoned houses. His application of charcoal, pastel, and colored pencil provides an illustrative yet realistic subject, with a graphic, stark separation from the white paper backgrounds. Clark’s work instills an incredible sense of gravity, decay, and declining or forgotten glory in each collapsing structure, bringing the viewer into a deeply nostalgic, reflective state. Despite many pieces depicting a standard frontal view, with the image in the middle of the page, such stagnant composition is easier to accept when considering the beauty of the subject matter itself.
However, one cannot ignore the unprofessional presentation that squanders the work’s value. In the narrow hallway lined with Clark’s drawings, all hanging at around eye level, the first piece seems confusingly separate from his other work: a grid of small abstract collages organized in white space, titled Leftovers. The piece’s inclusion provides no insight to the artist’s working process or relevance to the more refined works. Continuing down the crowded hall, one is offered close examination to appreciate the intricate details of his houses, but would also quickly notice the paper loosely fastened to the walls by offensive black binder clips. The most sensible space of the exhibit was barely used: a large room with a projector advertising the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Clark did have a few larger pieces on the opposing wall that looked stunning in black frames, but pointed out further the ridiculous difference in the hallway’s set-up.
At Wood Street Galleries, the awkwardly composed spaces bore similar disappointment. The show Parallel Universe showcases various instillation works, featuring video and light projection technologies that illustrate strange dualities between real and perceived life. In Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s Life Writer, imaginary microbial creatures are projected onto the page of a typewriter, where a seated audience member could type text to help grow new creatures. Although the work successfully presents an interesting significance in projection as a surreal “form of life,” Mignonneau (who was present) was difficult to hear explaining the piece, as the other audience members crowded around the typewriter. The surrounding empty space overwhelms the small installation, which asks why the room did not provide a more encapsulating darkness, as shown in the documentation photos of the work. However, darkness could well have been too disorienting, as illustrated in Arnold Dreyblatt’s Recovery Rotation, where a “rotating stroboscopic text machine” disengaged its viewers (“Parallel Universe”). The illuminated text was unreadable, even painful to discern, quickly sending most audience members stumbling out of the otherwise empty large, dark room.
Not all venues were so strangely equipped for their artists, however, with 709 Penn Gallery demonstrating a particularly remarkable display of two artists within a very small space. In Universal Expressions: Movement in Multiple Dimensions, Thomas Bigatel’s paintings and Peter Johnson’s wood sculptures share similar notions of abstracted, but natural intertwining and twisting forms. The arrangement of works is highly successful in accentuating the shared expression of movements within each set, where Johnson’s round, fluid edges compliment Bigatel’s dynamically “carved” ribbons of paint. Even more striking was the congruent use of parallel lines, curving within the grain of the wood and running inside the paintings’ large strokes. Due to the intimate space, warm illumination, and well-considered placement of works, a viewer could appreciate each work independently, as well as sense the larger expression of organic forms inspired by nature.
The crawl was a excellent opportunity for any aspiring artist to experience the value of presentation in considering space, lighting, and smaller details, down to the framing. Even with the intrigue of strong conceptual content or beautiful technical skills, the presentation flaws proved to affect the viewer’s intake as much or more than the work itself.
“Art on the Walls.” Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, n.d. Web. 2 Oct 2011. <http://www.pittsburghartscouncil.org/an-artist/469>.
Clark, Seth. “Work.” Seth Clark. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct 2011. <www.sethclark.com>.
“Gallery Crawl in the Cultural District.” The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, n.d. Web. 1 Oct 2011. <http://www.pgharts.org/events/eventDetails.aspx?id=123154>.
“Guide to the Art Gallery Crawl.” CBS Pittsburgh. CBS Pittsburgh, 04 Jul 2011. Web. 1 Oct 2011
“Parallel Universe.” The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. 803 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. 15222. September 30, 2011.
“Universal Expressions: Movement in Multiple Dimensions.” The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, n.d. Web. Oct 2011. < http://www.pgharts.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=161779 >