For the Artgoing Masses, The September 2012 Cultural District Gallery Crawl

            The chill rains of early fall did little to dissuade the Pittsburgh public from gathering in the Downtown neighborhood to enjoy the offerings of the quarterly Cultural District Gallery Crawl. Across several city blocks there lay gallery openings, film screenings, live music, and, in a relatively recent addition, a small marketplace of vendors hocking their wares. Thousands of visitors doggedly jumped from location to location seeking good company, free drinks, and more art than could be experienced in a mere three-and-a-half hour evening. Here was the interested public.

            The spectacle of the event somewhat unfortunately created certain limitations on both what art was shown and how it was displayed. The urges to see every one of the thirty or so unrelated exhibitions and to engage in lively socialization ensured that no artwork could be considered at the viewer’s own pace. Perhaps for this reason, informational placards were in low supply. For example, CURRENCY had a series of technically impressive paintings and intriguing sculpture – for example, a bloody fasces stuck into a wall –  anonymous without the few packets detailing the names, makers, and prices of each piece. The atmosphere’s energy was lively and exciting rather than rushed, making the event well suited to those with little experience in cultural exploration.

            Judging by their vast crowds of visitors, the two centerpiece venues of the night were the SPACE gallery, with Circles of Commotion and Moving Pauses, and Wood Street Galleries, with The City & the City: Artwork by London Writer. Oddly, neither of the exhibitions were well suited to the night’s atmosphere. Circles‘ was obfuscated to the extreme – the smell of burnt plastic and the sight of a performer clad in headphones and goggles fiddling with an iPhone could not foster an essential good first impression with viewers. The exhibition lacked documentation, critical here in such an outlandish environment unlike CURRENCY‘s more conventional presentation. The City demanded commitment on a night when adopting such an attitude meant less time to explore Downtown’s hidden artistic nooks, founding itself on the act of careful examination. Greenwich Degree Zero, for example, filled an entire room with historical documents and evidence detailing the detonation of a bomb by French anarchist Martial Bourdin near London’s Royal Observatory. Each item was carefully altered so that, in a new representation of history, the Observatory was destroyed. The reinterpretation of the event expected meditation on the part of the observer, meditation unfeasible in the rush of bodies through the space.

            The Gallery Crawl had been so successful at establishing itself as a social experience that it showed when exhibitions were not tailored to it. As a method of introduction to and sampling of the Pittsburgh cultural community, however, it may have been unrivaled. Unassuming, the event demands nothing of the diverse crowds it draws, but instead offers a suggestion for those willing to listen – come back and see things on your own time, a little more patient and a little more sober.

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