Looking at Charlee Brodsky’s curriculum vitae, one quickly visualizes a skillful documentarian and a prolific photographer. Fittingly, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts distinguished her compelling body of work with the Artist of the Year Award this past August. The award, disclosed to a regional artist two years in advance of public announcement, stipulates the creation of a solo exhibition of new work. Brodsky has used the two years leading up to her exhibition to create images that, aesthetically, are radically different from the works that have gained her recognition. Her grave explorations of aspects of the human condition – including interaction with nature, friendship, discrimination, and artistic development – normally captured through human subjects, are here captured through a combination of the written word and her chipper white terrier Max.
Walking through the space, I couldn’t help but notice Good Dog humorously brews an atmospheric mix of a library and a dog show. The words of literary giants, famous 20th century artists, and influential naturalists are set against colorful photographs of Max traipsing about in various Pittsburgh locales. The narratives that take place on the walls are mirrored in artists’ books lying on pedestals placed throughout the space. The books, the true centerpieces of Good Dog, showcase an attention to craft in their carefully accordion-bound pages, a sensibility missing from the unframed photographs on the walls.
While every image of our protagonist Max is beautifully shot, there is a problematic cognitive dissonance present in the exhibition. It is perhaps epitomized by a photograph in the Mary Shelley inspired book Monster, showing a smiling Max, tongue lolling, with the caption “Why did you create a monster so hideous?” Such cute and silly imagery makes it hard to take the show seriously, and one struggles to grasp at deeper themes. Brodsky set out to make a show transcending a glorified Facebook album of her dog, but to members of the Facebook generation – my generation – the impression of banality sets in far too easily and on a regular basis.
Charlee Brodsky’s decision to take a more lighthearted approach to serious themes was not necessarily badly considered – indeed, it was a daring choice in the context of a show given to reward the sober work that has solidified her reputation. Despite Brodsky’s obvious talent, I was left with the impression that her terrier made an amusing but blunt subject choice.