Category Archives: Chloe Newman

Chloe Newman: Art Criticism in Pittsburgh (Word Count: 3234)

James Elkins writes in his co-edited publication, The State of Art Criticism, that contemporary art criticism has become a global mess; its once powerful and insightful influences are waning and serve abysmally small figures of readership. He attributes this decline in effective and engaging critical reviews to a variety of situational forces dictated  by our globalized modern cultures, but makes particular notice in the mindsets of the writers themselves. The poorly-defined stakes in practicing art criticism, which intertwine with a missing set of common grounds for artistic interpretation, has devalued the historically fundamental idea of expressing straight-forward judgment in critical writing. Elkins also argues, however, that art criticism on the international scale is not simply absent, rather “flourishing, but invisibly” (Elkins 72).

While this may be true for most culturally affluent cities, Pittsburgh is slightly unique from this world-wide dilemma for art criticism that Elkins depicts. Contingent upon a number of factors that stem from the city’s history, economic structures, and current interactions between artists and their communities, Pittsburgh suffers more from the dominant circulation of dispassionate critical writing than from a case of unwilling or absent readership. The contemporary environment for the region’s artistic practice, as a previous Pittsburgh-resident states in The New Yorker, is “multicultural, connected to the intellectual mainstream, but secluded and spacious enough to foster original work” (Helford). The writer further defines artists in this mix of diversity and seclusion as “chronically underestimated,”  leading to the question of  where the city accurately stands. Considered on the local scale as well as beyond, writers and reviewers currently struggle to define the criteria for judging Pittsburgh art. Similar to Elkins’s point of criticism lacking mutual agreements for aesthetic standards on which to base critique, the sentiment suggests underdeveloped expectations for the Pittsburgh art scene, which grants artists unfair concessions.

Much of this is attributed to the roles artists have played in Pittsburgh in the past, and how certain traits have carried over into the present. When the 1970’s and 80’s saw the primary economic focus in steel mills take a sharp fall, artists seized the opportunity to reshape the city’s financial and cultural identity. Today, the Pittsburgh arts community takes great pride in such a tenacious emergence, still developing in the contemporary city’s post-industrial stages. The downtown area, following suit to other art-based sectors of U.S. cities, has nurtured much of the growing artistic involvement, but what is truly remarkable is how the surrounding neighborhoods too have introduced their own strong arts communities. The visual and performing arts across these sectors have come to contribute steady streams of stimulating visual experiences, but also have had major influence in supporting crucial economic aspects. The Pittsburgh Arts Council claims that 341 million dollars of economic activity are generated annually through Allegheny County’s modern nonprofit arts and cultural industries – ten times the input is initially invested into the arts from local and state taxes (“Pittsburgh is Art”).

Thus, the arts have clearly become an integral part of enriching the experience of living in and exploring Pittsburgh. Local publications often make note of these frequent opportunities, praising the  numerous local arts programs and organizations, annual festivals, galleries and venues of many sizes and formats, and internationally renowned museums that make such a stimulating environment possible. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and The Pittsburgh City Paper all give regular attention to local visual art, theater, music, and literature events and highlights, encouraging patrons to continue support for the betterment of Pittsburgh’s citizens. In the digital realm, there are many websites dedicated to posting lists packed with art events in Pittsburgh, providing essential details for attendance (time, date, location, etc), and often including an attractive statement to entice one’s participation. Navigating the large pool of events at any one point in time can be overwhelming, especially with each described in a glowing light.

Yet, while this highly positive attitude and abundance of listings may stimulate greater attendance and excitement, a key element is missing from these public distributions that largely hinders the Pittsburgh arts from achieving its true potential. The mindset of media coverage has become an all-inclusive, “everyone’s-a-winner” display that makes distinguishing one event from the other difficult. This problem roots itself in the lack of well-formulated, well-circulated art criticism, which would provide a necessary evaluation of these artistic endeavors. The current model aims to avoid constraining Pittsburgh’s original aspects into an “intellectual or creative straight-jacket” (“On the Purpose of Art”) by commending most  displays of artistic expression. Although without the properly balanced feedback structure, artists, patrons, viewers and readers are easily influenced to misunderstand or even become ignorant to the significance of the Pittsburgh arts community’s current wealth in creative diversity and potential to grow. The audience is not unaware of the events happening around them, but the majority is confused about how to process the ideas projected in the work within the grander scheme of contemporary art and society.

Further, to believe that the passive, shallow descriptions that too often serve the public are sufficient, in the place of real criticism, is denying the worth of the art itself. The efforts of artists and their influences on viewers are currently subjected to artificial conditions, with few fulfilling responses or documentations to both grant real value and spur further reflections. In a more accurate depiction of art criticism, carefully chosen descriptive language reasons certain subjective interpretations and judgments with its audience, giving meaning to the relayed pieces of information that illustrates a show of work. Such deliberation over descriptive precision reflects the experience of interpreting art in order to contextualize its meaning on the wide range of personal and global scales, rather than simply knowing “what is happening when.”

Currently, however, the most available sources to the Pittsburgh public ignore this powerful idea. Looking to the accessibility of digital tools to find and engage art events in Pittsburgh, awareness of what is available is not an issue.  Still, one must choose the events that best suit our interests – a difficult task when one has so little information about the nature of the event itself – and perhaps gain some sense of the non-attended through critical reviews. And yet, among all of this digital information about when and where events will be happening, the number of visible and easily accessible Pittsburgh-based art criticism sites and blogs that would describe these events is pitiful. In this way, print-publications still seem to  find the easiest routes to finding readership for Pittsburgh-centric reviews.

The Pittsburgh City Paper notably demonstrates a great investment in writing reviews, ranging from smaller galleries to “high-end” museum shows. However, there is a pattern of significant time-delay between the opening of a show and a written piece that provides interested readers with a sense of the show’s values. Robert Raczka, one of few contributors, submits thoughtful and critical responses about various experiences in Pittsburgh, even when a delicate topic surrounds the show. In a near 800-word response to Silver Eye Photography’s show HomeFrontLine, he gives City Paper readers a structured analysis of how the emotionally-charged images and stories reflecting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 would appeal to viewers. While he warns audience members of the show’s heavy content, informational density, and morbidly provocative themes, he is also able to demonstrate how these aspects contribute positively to the greater Pittsburgh arts community, challenging the boundaries of subject matter and seeking truth from all sides of a story, no matter the politics. Further, the review is available to the public online in the “Arts: Visual Arts Reviews and Features” category on the City Paper’s website. This separation of visual arts from theater, dance, music, and other creative forms is uncommon in most publications, and while some may prefer to integrate the related categories, the distinction makes navigating the reviews much clearer and easier for finding specific exhibitions.

Despite all of these important considerations, there is still room for improvement for the Pittsburgh City Paper to have a greater impact on the arts community. The main problems lie in the need to have more frequent reviews, with more efforts to  publishing reviews closer to smaller gallery openings. The HomeFrontLine review was published November 16, 2011, more than two months after the show’s opening on September 11, while The Mattress Factory received a review on it’s Factory Installed show two days before its October 28 opening reception. While other contributors intersperse the review listings, Raczka’s piece preceding HomefrontLine was published August 18, 2011. If the immediacy of previews for more well-known museums and venues could be integrated with Racska’s critical writing, the City Paper would be well on its way to leading art criticism in Pittsburgh.

Yet, a different problematic facet of newspaper reviews is apparent in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s articles, which often provides previews for upcoming shows with information about the venue, and particularly intriguing interviews with associated predominant figures. While the frequency of these publications is fairly commendable, the content almost exclusively investigates the opinions of those promoting the exhibition, too often presenting the bias of artists and curators. Thus, the objective elements give great accuracy, but the subjective focuses separate themselves far from the actual experience of the viewer.

Pittsburgh magazines contrast newspaper publications by providing a larger range of writing constituted as art reviews and criticism, but are produced with less frequency in the nature of extended magazine curatorial, editing, and publishing periods. In The  Pittsburgh Quarterly, for example, a single issue is far more likely to feature a substantial criticism piece investigating a larger Pittsburgh art event- one that while most city residents have already heard or read much concerning the objective information, are provided with a more in-depth and subjective justifications regarding the impact of the event. In the Fall 2011 issue, writer Graham Shearing contributes a near two-thousand word piece exploring the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial, committing extraordinary attention to the curation of each artist, as well as the art’s strengths and weaknesses to contribute to the larger art sphere’s development.

While this occasional magazine is able to get away with longer submissions, quotidian formats of media coverage found length to be far too detrimental a means of deep-digging critical writing. Five years ago, the local public radio station WQED featured a regular program devoting an entire hour to art-based discussions and criticisms. The program was dissolved, however, because members of the station claim it was received by listeners as “too much talking.” The station filled the airing time instead by allowing more time for their focal programming, consisting of mainly classical music. One might agree with the majority of potential listeners that an hour of art reviews would become reminiscent of dull lecturing, especially taking into consideration how contemporary American media sources define efficiency in seeking out information. The world-wide web, in particular, teaches its audience to engage in shorter attention spans, where one has control to quickly collect a diverse range of bits of information within a vast network of sources. Yet, even the station’s attempts to mirror this mode of information circulation, revising the hour-long program into 1-2 minute opportunities for art critics, still failed. A gradual decline in these talks brought the station to its current state, hosting no available time-slots for art criticism.

There are plenty of articles available, both digitally and in print, that promote  the Pittsburgh public to attend various art events, but little that would give an honest, critical  reflection about why the events’ are significant. Writers seem highly concerned with presenting a positive, excited view to increase involvement, while efforts to develop a successful art forum are lacking. At PopCityMedia.com, one can browse events in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, read featured stories, or use the “PopFilter” to find excellent informational reviews about upcoming openings, shows, and other visual and performance art events. These “e-magazine” writers demonstrate a high commitment to research, including quotes from other published sources, statistics, artist/curator interviews, and hyperlinks to any mentioned organizations or venues. However, the “reviews” are as critical as a museum gallery brochure; there’s no sense of what events might actually be like. When a review precedes an event, it is easy to imagine why a writer’s main goal is to promote an interest in attending. However, there is a way to do this, while inspiring the prospective audience to think more critically about what Pittsburgh art has to offer. Critical judgment should be utilized here as a valuable form of growth, seeking to improve the strength of the art community and the work that is being produced.

As the local Pittsburgh arts previews, positive reviews, and listings flourish, taking the place of valuable local criticism, wider scopes of recognition in Pittsburgh’s art communities may influence the city to start challenging itself in order to compete with renown of other national and international art-rich cities. A particularly inspiring example arises in Hyperallergic, an art-centric “blogazine, podcast and journal” that has achieved remarkable readership on the internet, boasting 85 thousand visitors monthly (Gueyikian and Vartanian). The site’s two creators attribute their success to a joint commitment of publishing high-quality pieces, while “engaging writing and images from informed and provocative perspectives” (Gueyikian and Vartanian). Hyperallergic truly demonstrates this intent, featuring submissions from contributing writers not just in the New York area (where the creators maintain the site in Brooklyn), but from across the globe.

Within the context of this collective,Hyperallergic’s December 3rd post of an in-depth critical review for Pittsburgh’s 2011 Biennial that brings increased significance to the insights brought forth by the writer. The article’s writer, Leila Nadir, is able to provide a far more globalized perspective, presenting literal questioning of the Carnegie Mellon Miller Gallery’s portion of artwork is meant to be viewed with-holding the ideas put forth by the Pittsburgh-based art historian and critic Terry Smith. For Nadir to mention Smith, however, is an interesting situation, where the show’s location inspires the writer to seek the perspectives of an individual from that same location – an individual who happens to write prolifically on the larger scale of themes emerging from contemporary art of “global connectivity, environmental issues and the effects of media” (“Hyperallergic”). The fantastic realization and interplay of global and local influences in describing the exhibit identifies the strengths of this international art-criticism blogsphere even further. Terry Smith, on the other hand, seems to grant little devotion to criticism about local arts, although his influence at the University of Pittsburgh could provide potential for engaging youth to understand contemporary art criticism’s identity crisis. As Smith continues to engage modern art theories, hopefully his work will continue to draw international writers attentions to give new insights to Pittsburgh artwork, stimulating more introspection within the Pittsburgh community.

Within this notion of introspective viewpoints, in particular, should not be afraid to provide criticisms of Pittsburgh art. While the Mid-western influences on the city’s social norms tend towards friendly encouragement, dictating constant smiles and congratulations for presenting artists, there needs to be a more genuine correspondence between creator and viewer. Despite this idea to have more honest responses rooted in good intentions, the obvious concern for how this would affect personal relationships cannot be ignored. However, the anonymous forums for criticism could find a unique power in Pittsburgh. Nevertellmetheodds.org is one such place for open discussion of ideas in response to local events where posters are not held  accountable for expressing negative judgments.

The website, however, would need to undergo a huge transformation, focused primarily in reorganization of the data and user interface improvements, to make the digital board an attractive and accessible means of criticism for the Pittsburgh public. As it stands right now, one must sift through any and all topics that users post, with no guarantee of quality writing. The site may well be past a point of generating a useful post-and-response database for art-specific events. However, there is hope in “The Pittsburgh Art Blog”, who announced on October 24, 2011 that the site will soon undergo a major change in the way they present information to readers about Pittsburgh’s art-based events, switching from short posts to full-fledged articles. With comments to such writing enabled, a Pittsburgh-based art forum may have a chance to flourish, if those committed to the site are truly willing to face the new challenges of real criticism.

This identifies another key element missing from most forms of critical writing in Pittsburgh: the incentive to spend more time towards or redirect one’s own writing into submitting critical pieces. Those already writing about the arts, employed by the city’s printed publications, have entered themselves into a lower-risk niche. These writers are susceptible to  believing that there is an imbalanced trade-off by writing more critically, as the stakes for their own professional reputation are raised and the job becomes more difficult (with attention to word choice becoming even more of a commitment).

For those who are not established writers of the arts, the difficulty lies in the economic truth that most cases will not yield monetary payment for their efforts. In 2006, the Pittsburgh-based Sprout Fund granted a set of local and writers a five thousand dollar grant to embark on a project named the Pittsburgh Art Review, which intended to create a centralized forum for art criticism, discussion, and archiving of events. Lauren Goshinski, co-founder and manager of the project, explains that the group believed the money would have primarily gotten the movement started by providing stipends to the initial rounds of writing and development contributors. However, the allotted resources were still too weak to allow for interested participants to have a proper involvement with the project.

Goshinski reflects that the high-quality perspectives the project sought to bring together required time and money, which the already established publications do not necessarily require or find an issue when seeking contributors. However, she argues that focusing a similar project within a university setting would provide greater means of avoiding these issues. The idea is made possible by the contemporary world’s rare opportunities for art criticism to be learned within academic institutions, let alone practiced according to a standard set of writing rules or guidelines. With art criticism existing with such little means for certification, students could utilize critical writing as an empowering assertion of their involvement with modern-day interactions and feedback structures between media and its viewers.

While it isn’t impossible to find progressive and engaging forums for art criticism in Pittsburgh, too often the longer, more intense projects are overlooked and pushed aside to make way for the quick, frequent, and easily digestible. Some forms of media distributions, such as radio and newspapers, have interpreted Pittsburgh audiences to be less interested in committing daily time-slots to exploring the deeper critical evaluations of local arts communities. However, other formats show great potential for demonstrating Pittsburgh’s growing state of art creation and mindset, as well as its will to  have a say in the larger art forums of the world. For this to happen, writers, artists, and audiences need to overcome their fear of giving honest feedback, and realize the personal and communal benefits of expressing such claims publicly. Just as artists re-defined this city’s identity within the past few decades, it is time for the community to learn from their efforts to persuade ourselves and others that Pittsburgh art has a valuable say in defining contemporary art.

Bibliography

“About The Sprout Fund.” The Sprout Fund. The Sprout Fund, 2011. Web. 13 Dec 2011.  <http://www.sproutfund.org/about/&gt;.

Byerly, Rick. The Pittsburgh Art Blog. N.p., n. d. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.             <http://pittsburghgalleries.blogspot.com/&gt;.

Elkins, James and Michael Newman (eds). The State of Art Criticism. New York: Routledge, 2008

Goshinski, L. (2011, December 13). Personal Interview.

Gueyikian, Veken, and Hrag Vartanian. Hyperallergic: Sensitive to Art & its Discontents. Going Off Script, n. d. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://hyperallergic.com/&gt;.

Halford, Macy. “The Book Bench: The Hills Are Alive.” The New Yorker. (2009): n. page. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/08/the-hills-are-alive.html>.

N.p., Online Posting to Never Tell Me The Odds. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.             <http://nevertellmetheodds.org/&gt;.

“Pittsburgh: Arts and Culture.” Wikipedia. Web. 11 Dec 2011.             <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is Art. The Pittsburgh Arts Council, n.d. Web. 11 Dec 2011.             <http://pittsburghisart.org/&gt;.

Pop City Media. Web 11 Dec 2011. <http://popcitymedia.com/&gt;

“A Progressive Living Essay: Some Reflections Concerning the Purpose of Art and the Possibility of Objective Aesthetic Standards.”On the Purpose of Art. Progressive Living, n.d. Web. 12 Dec 2011.             <http://www.progressiveliving.org/Art_Theories_files/purpose_of_art.htm&gt;.

Shearing, Graham. “Art Thoughts: The Provocative Pittsburgh Biennial.” Pittsburgh Quarterly. 2011: n. page. Print.

Chloe Newman: Cathy Wilkes (Word Count: 299)

The Carnegie Museum of Art’s Forum series, striving to build a connection between Pittsburgh and the international contemporary art world, currently presents an installation constructed from preexisting artworks by Irish artist Cathy Wilkes.  The show’s smaller gallery space grants intimacy in size, though its location near the museum entrance yields frequent passer-bys peering in. Immediately upon entering, however, her collection of sculptures, paintings, and objects speak soft, communal reflections of a WWI era (Carnegie Museum of Art); though huddling in the back-center of the room, artworks face the audience forward and exposed.

That is, except for one of three constructed mannequins, whose grotesquely hunched posture and heavy, dark color instantly claims dominant focus. The immense sense of struggle and exasperation in the woman’s action, who pulls up from shattered terracotta and torn cloth lying before her (Byers), gives particular narrative to the surrounding works’ beyond war. While the beautiful, disturbing figure does command such attention, she ultimately promotes cohesion , distracting only to guide the viewers into a sensitive mindset to address the quiet suffering threading together the weathered, fragile displays. Difficulty in grasping the exhibit as an installation, however, rises from Wilkes’s recent explorations with painting, which communicate less familiarity than the hauntingly disfigured mannequins and real objects of the past. Even when these small, abstract paintings join the mysterious artifacts among three low tables, her memories interpreted abstractly through paint stimulates a different process of connecting with personal history.

Still, Wilkes’s ominous space encourages an overall ruminating experience, in which no object or form suggests simple interpretation. Those who seek out Wilkes’s concepts further may discover the artist’s incorporated histories and theories to project new notions of mind and memory, bringing new ways for one to access the personal elements of the artist’s created and collected world.

Bibliography

Byers, Dan. “Cathy Wilkes Museum Brochure: Softness, Pain.” Carnegie Museum of Art. Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 2011. Web. 4 Dec 2011.

“Cathy Wilkes” Carnegie Museum of Art. 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. December 1, 2011.

“Cathy Wilkes” Exhibitions. Carnegie Museum of Art. Web. 4 Dec 2011.             <http://web.cmoa.org/?page_id=3530 >

 

Chloe Newman: Factory Installed (Word Count: 498)

The Mattress Factory’s exhibition Factory Installed represents six international artists, chosen by the museum’s curators from over six hundred applicants’ responses to an open-call (O’Leary). The artists’ were granted a two-month residency to create an artwork that reinterprets “site-specific” installation work. Although residency to create installation-based work is part of the museum’s usual invitation, co-curator Katherine Talcott reveals that each installation engages a space specifically chosen by its artist. This brings the viewer a natural curiosity to discover how an area best suits the artist’s specific processes, materials, and expression, as well as how the works hold together.

However, it becomes difficult to see beyond a certain divide: one group of work integrates contemporary technology and lighting, while others exhibit unique object creation and placement. Mariana Manhaes’s  Thesethose comes closest to connecting this split, both a strange object that stretches across the long room, and a display of digital stimuli invoking physical reactions. While the artist describes her piece as responding to the room’s three windows with footage of her own studio’s (Mattress Factory), the character of the “organic machine” (Manhaes) moves beyond this initial inspiration. Two central video’s sounds and actions send information along the suspended, skeletal body, which controls particular limbs’ inflation of couch-sized plastic bags. Walking among the exposed wires and technical framework, one may wish for more present communication between the space and the final product of Manhaes’s project, but the machine’s mutant qualities are certainly enhanced by the windows’ illumination and the room’s length.

Pablo Valbuena’s Para-Site, on the other hand, immediately and completely transforms one’s perception of his space upon entering the mysterious darkness. As the far wall slowly illuminates with virtual images of changing shapes and glowing outlines, a fantastical space beyond (or perhaps, within) the real structure emerges and extends our imagination to thrilling levels. His technical precision, paired with an outstanding sense of fluid movement and suspense, displays a hauntingly beautiful exploration of the architecture.

Valbuena’s stunning and dramatic reinterpretation seems to overwhelm the object-based works, which do exhibit beauty in the handmade, but lack the elegance of his overall performance. Often, individual objects seem to take precedence over the installations, as found in the strangely familiar, yet unrecognizable plush and found-object combination sculptures in Nika Kupyrova’s Roadkill. The small clusters are intriguing, but viewers may be confused in searching for the conversation between objects and site. Veronica Ryan faces a similar dilemma: while The Weather Inside explores the converse relationship of inward and outward occupancy of space, her complimentary objects are more easily interpreted as stand-alone diptych sculptures than one cohesive environment, despite her efforts to integrate wall-space, windows, and floor with her piece.

Factory Installed, though divided between the virtual and object-based, proved interesting pursuits among its artists. However, the incorporation of site-specificity did not always live up to its advertised strength. Keeping these in mind, a viewer could certainly enjoy the pleasantly diverse experience: from exhilarating and organic electronics, to hand-made relics and oddities.

Bibliography

“Factory Installed.” Mattress Factory. 500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. November 17 2011. <http://www.mattress.org>

Manhaes, Mariana. “Thesethose, 2011.” Mariana Manhaes. N.p., 2011. Web. 20 Nov 2011. <http://www.marianamanhaes.com/imagens/2011_Thesethose/2011Thesethose.html>.

Nika Kupyrova. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Nov 2011. <http://www.nikakupyrova.com>.

O’Leary, Linsday. “Mattress Factory Announces “Factory Installed”.”Mattress Factory: Online Media Resource. Mattress Factory, 2011. Web. 20 Nov 2011.        <http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/u=4514dabe0fedbbfb3c21d8d6c&id=a42a14167c&e=2aa898d1bf>.

Pablo Valbuena. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 Nov 2011. <http://www.pablovalbuena.com&gt;.

Chloe Newman: Teenie Harris (Word Count: 799)

One of the most intriguing elements of the the Carnegie Museum of Art’s most recent show, Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story, is that after ten years of researching, cataloging, and archiving the purchased collection of the famous photographer’s negatives, the photographs still contain mysterious narratives to uncover. This is not to say the museum has not accomplished an astonishing amount in this time, having scanned in and cataloged nearly sixty-thousand of the eighty-thousand photographic negatives (“About the Archive”), but rather that the museum’s goal to identify the history of photographs’ people and places seems an ambitious task. Even more magnificent is the documentation of Charles “Teenie” Harris’s photographs largely depending upon the public, with multiple museum fliers encouraging visitors to contribute information about the images. However, the nature of this challenge highlights the beautifully defined connection between artist and community, and how the images of the past relate to modern audiences.

The gallery showcases 987 of Teenie Harris’s prints (Carnegie Museum of Art), uses various presentation methods and categories to demonstrate Harris’s historically unique illustration of “an American story.” His engagement of urban African-American lifestyles, roughly dating between the 1930’s and 1970’s (“California Newsreel”), is subdivided into themes ranging from “urban landscapes” and “words and signs,”  to more inclusive genres, such as “crossroads” and “gatherings.” In the first gallery space, seven large-scale projections of slide-shows, each captioned by one such “theme,” surround a communal viewing space. The jazz music soundtrack, created specifically for the exhibition, fills the room with a nostalgic, yet progressing tone.  The music quiets the audience, effectively creating similar notions of gathering and  togetherness that Harris so genuinely captures on film. The space does not suggest sitting through each show’s entirety, but introduces the show’s themes, the community spirit, and offers a chance to find favorite photographs that will later reappear with exciting familiarity.

Continuing further, a larger space offers multiple ways to discover the work in more individualized viewing areas. The central rows of computer kiosks allow one to browse the smiling faces and common, yet special events on a more intimate level. The clean interface and zoom features allow an amount of detail that makes the scenes even more immersive; the program would be a fantastic addition to the archive’s current web-page. Surrounding this kiosk area, a large-scale time-line from 1934-1974 offers a physical viewing form, lining the walls with matted digital prints. Here one can digest the vast collection at their own pace, occasionally stepping back to let the whole fill one’s vision. These juxtaposing scales project Harris in multiple roles; while his time-line defines him as an influential artist and significant historical figure, the kiosks invite a chance to identify deep personal connections between Harris and his subjects.

While these exhibits all successfully create a gateway into the artist’s mind, there is an anti-climatic video-work that gives a disappointing final evaluation of Harris. The 15-minutes of commentary, paired with a photographic slide-show, is difficult to enter after the previous spaces of intense stimulation. One can still appreciate the film’s focus on Harris’s friends, family, and communities committing personal accounts to the artist’s fantastic accomplishments. However, the video hardly matches the beauty of the still images, nor their impact in understanding the artist, his passions, and his relationship with his environment. Overall, the multi-faceted gallery experience presents Teenie Harris’s life and work with the energy and spirit explored in his culture, with each photograph effectively adding to Harris’s narrative. The thought of this rich narrative still expanding into 79,000 remaining negatives, however, is beyond comprehension.

Bibliography

“About the Archive.” Documenting Our Past: The Teenie Harris Archive. Carnegie Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 11 Nov 2011. <http://www.cmoa.org/teenie/intro.asp&gt;.

“One Shot: The Life and Work of Teenie Harris.” California Newsreel. (2004): n. page. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0128&s=harris&gt;.

“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story.” Carnegie Museum of Art. 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. November 10, 2011.

“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story.” Exhibitions. Carnegie Museum of Art. Web. 11 Nov 2011. <http://web.cmoa.org/?page_id=327&gt;

Chloe Newman: Reblurred (Word Count: 751)

The Penn Avenue Arts District presents Unblurred on the first Friday of every month, inviting the public to walk along Penn Avenue to explore a variety of venues hosting local art, music, and performance. This past Friday’s event, Reblurred, showcased a variety of mediums, with particular representation of two-dimensional art in painting/drawing, printing, and photography. Some gallery spaces even invited musicians to perform among artwork, inevitably influencing the exhibit’s experience. The most memorable among this collective of artists, however, were those who embodied a certain honesty with which they present themselves and their work. Matching the charm of Penn Avenue’s unrefined, weathered spaces, these artists show no ounce of shame in their personal styles, interests, and often hand-made qualities. These most engaging experiences did not try to conform to “high art” standards for creativity, but instead surprised viewers with new appreciations of the twisted and quirky.

Steph Neary and Christian Breitkreutz were most successful in this venture with their collaborative show, Butterfly Kingdom. Held at Modern Formations, the gallery offers two large viewing spaces, connected by a small hallway. Both rooms present a large number of small paintings intermixing Neary and Breitkrutz, playing off of their similar styles containing comic-like character depictions. While the first room stands as a more traditional white wall, but still casual viewing space, the second room at the opening was full of life. The large crowd of twenty-something-year-olds bustled about the darkened room, openly discussing the humor and oddities of the work. Steph Neary, personally introducing herself, was open to describe her interests in drawing and collaborative comic-making with friends, her personality flowing congruently with her paintings’ “take me as I am” spirit. The commendable number of paintings and prints certainly grants the artists a title of wide creativity (if the viewer finds one piece unattractive, there seems a hundred others to explore), while also displaying a strong commitment and passion to create. Even the wall treatment of the second room, a deep but stirring purple, accentuating how the off-beat images engaged the casual, yet buzzing viewing experience.

The International Children’s Art Gallery, also regular participant in the Unblurred series, presented the very different painting aesthetic of Richard Rappaport, but produced a similarly genuine display from the established artist. Though exceeding the Butterfly Kingdom artists in age and experience, having exhibited his work nationally and internationally for over forty years (Gates), Rappaport had just four paintings in this show. The small set is justified by the large scale of his paintings, along with the rough but masterful handling of paint defining expressive, but often solemn or tragic figures. Simple, broad strokes of paint were even layered on walls to better suit the raw imagery on the canvases. The artist was eager to share his past with the few visitors, describing his paintings as a stand against nonbelievers of his style, and an indisputable proof of his passion and talent. While the paintings evoked some stirring emotions and thoughtful representations of the figure, their meaning for Rappaport added a highly effective lure.

Shows that lacked this honest, passionate display often appeared confused and empty in attempts to create a sophisticated setting. Assemble, which claims a passion in engaging the community through new media and  hands-on approaches to artwork (“About Assemble), fell short of establishing these values successfully. The show Lizzy De Vita: So_lo deserves respect for exploring multiple mediums, but no piece in particular showed an emotional or cognitive attachment. Her sculpture installations aim for a certain minimal and neutral environment, including cloth draping over cinder blocks and soft video projection, but provoked no meaningful reaction. Elsewhere, audience members can individually add white paint to the white wall – a conceptual piece, but confusing in figuring the larger picture. As members of Assemble approach with clipboards and ask specifically assigned questions, such as “Where are you” and “What’s next,” one lacks motivation to participate because the other pieces give no theme or hint as to the product’s rewards. Assemble introduces De Vita’s interests as “process and technology alter[ing] perception and consumption” (“Lizzy De Vita: So_lo”), but the presentation showed little trace of this influence.

Perhaps, were De Vita also physically present actively sharing her story and passion, the work would have expressed such life as Neary, Breitkrutz, and Rappaport. Reblurred visitors who think a work unfamiliar and strange may find important discoveries learning the artist’s desires to create and share, as the genuine and passionate can often be represented in unfamiliar ways.

Bibliography

“About Assemble.” Assemble: A Community Space for Art and Technology. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov 2011. <http://assemblepgh.org/&gt;.

Breitkreutz, Christian. “Bio.”Christian Breitkreutz. N.p., 2008. Web. 7 Nov 2011. <http://www.christianbreitkreutz.com/bio.html&gt;.

Gates, Kelly. “Venerable painter Richard Rappaport discusses five of his works: The  Pittsburgh-based portraitist tells the story behind the paintings in a new show.” Pittsburgh City Paper. (2011): n. page. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.             <http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid:98106&gt;.

Neary, Steph. The rise and Demize of Junkyard Girls: A Collection of Work by Steph Neary.  Awesome Inc., n. d. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.stephneary.blogspot.com/&gt;.

“Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn.”Living Pittsburgh. (2011): n. page. Web. 5 Nov. 2011.  <http://www.livingpittsburgh.com/2011/03/unblurred-first-fridays-on-penn-avenue-arts-district-pittsburgh/&gt;.

“Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn.”Penn Avenue Arts Initiative. Friendship Development Associates, 2009. Web. 5 Nov 2011. <http://friendship-pgh.org/paai/unblurred/&gt;.

 

 

Chloe Newman: Gertrude’s/LOT (Word Count: 602)

As part of the Pittsburgh Biennial, The Andy Warhol Museum currently showcases a retrospective of the renowned writer, scholar, and artist Gertrude Stein, whose teachings and international recognition continues to influence contemporary culture. The  show Gertrude’s/LOT discusses Stein’s work in a selection of twenty-two female artists, all having spent considerable time working or living in Pittsburgh, but forming a diverse assembly of mediums and voices. The work strongly reflects elements of Stein’s use of language and repetition to contend social injustice, although the tone of these pieces seem divided among two separate categories. While some artists aim to weave witty humor into discussions of serious issues, other artists keep their artistic expression consistent with the solemn, stark subject matter. Both approaches guide the viewer to compare past and present social hierarchies and behaviors, but the two sets of tones inspire very different modes of understanding, which are difficult to hold simultaneously while exploring the exhibit.

The farthest extreme within the humorous approach also proves to be one of the most engaging pieces, combining the antiquity of ventriloquism, new-age video technology, and contemporary communication and language forms. The Dummy is Present by T. Foley features a high-definition video of the silent artist controlling “Hector,” a ventriloquist dummy who appears in various casual settings to relay excerpts from craigslist postings, specifically by “men looking for women” requests (“Easy Pieces”). While the viewer watches the video performance, Hector sits eerily close by in a glass case, only a vessel playing host to the many voices, despite his animated performances. The repetition of readings and investigation of language in the virtual world draws strong parallels with Stein, but the piece’s exploration of masculine expressions in particular brings a fantastic focus to the social issues existing within a reality that allows for these anonymous attempts to be noticed and connect with others.

Milk Truck, by Jill Miller, is another video work located far from Hector, but embodying similar playful tones to address society’s harsh expectations for women to oblige to “modest public behavior,” while still embracing the role of society’s primary nurturer. In the video, Miller narrates an animation introducing the “mobile breast-feeding unit,” which was presented as a real-world entity at the show’s opening (“The Milk Truck: Info”). Although the language and images are as sweet as a children’s book, the viewer is able to recognize how the milk truck’s existence addresses social issues.

The path between Milk Truck and The Dummy is Present however is intercepted by Vanessa German’s striking kinetic sculpture Minstrel Blood: The Greatest Show on Earth! Everything You Need Fo Yo Menstrual Show. Though the masterful assemblage of materials (including wood, plaster, glue, tar, and small found objects) entices the viewer to closely examine the beautifully crafted relic, the unsettling imagery of minstrel shows and blackface constantly exudes and draws out raw emotions (Venishnick). The work demands a far different state of cognitive-emotional connection, seeking a more guttural response to history’s subjugation of social groups society deems “inferior.” In addition, the aesthetic clash between the sculpture and newer media forms warns a shift in mindset that takes considerable adjustment.

In the end, however, these pieces are able to demonstrate their individual strengths and unique connections to Gertrude Stein without undermining the artists of a different expression. Rather, it demonstrates an abundant cultural and creative diversity among today’s women artists; in the Warhol, the gallery hosts a contemporary forum relating past and present facets of human interaction. Though the viewer must  bound between light and heavy tones, the experience is united by consistent dedication to address social issues.

Bibliography

“The Andy Warhol Museum.” 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial. Biennial, 2011. Web. 30 Oct 2011.  <http://biennial.pittsburgharts.org/?p=116&gt;.

“Easy Pieces.” STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. Carnegie Mellon University, 2011. Web. 30 Oct 2011. <http://studioforcreativeinquiry.org/projects/easypiesce&gt;.

“Gertrude Stein – brief biography.” N.p., 18 JUL 2007. Web. 30 Oct 2011.             <http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stein-bio.html&gt;.

“Gertrude’s/LOT.” The Andy Warhol Museum. 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. October 27 2011. <http://www.warhol.org>

“The Milk Truck: Info.” The Milk Truck. N.p. Web. 31 Oct 2011.             <http://www.themilktruck.org/Info.html >

Venishnick, Anna. “My Generation/Female Art: Vanessa German – Let’s talk about art.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (2011): n. page. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11249/1172453-51.stm&gt;.

 

Chloe Newman: Sites of Passage (Word Count: 740)

While the Mattress Factory boasts a unique permanent collection of contemporary installation-art, compiled from an international pool of artists, the current exhibition located in the museum’s annex building demonstrates an even greater eagerness to provide visitors with an art world outside the bounds of our own country. The show Sites of Passage contains a number of installation works by American and Egyptian artists, who provide both collective and individual responses to the recent events surrounding the political dissent within Egypt. Violence, oppression, and the small whispers of  hope are unsurprisingly prevalent themes among the artwork. However, the artists’ “Firefly Tunnel Project” acts as the show’s true motivation, striving to deconstruct prevailing harmful cultural barriers and to “build a language of peace through the actions of art” (Mattress Factory). It is this statement of purpose describing the art’s “ethnographic exchange” (Firefly Tunnels) that primarily guides the viewer’s attention towards understanding the show’s functions and message.

Sites of Passage, however, does not provide its viewers with any substantial historical or contemporary informational background regarding the situation in Egypt, or even the past and current relationships between Egypt and the United States. It is credible to believe that most American visitors to this particular show may not have a preliminary grasp of the Egyptian Revolution’s impact resonating in the work, which certainly affects these viewers; comprehension in lacking context for the emotional response pieces. The artists’ statements prove themselves crucial for understanding the sources of various image, sound, and video contents, but such explanations also found instances hindering the Firefly Tunnel Project’s directives to breach the extensive language barriers. At one extreme, however, the absence of historical background and complexities of language are considered in a simple, elegantly focused, and cross-cultural subject, with a comfortable but expansive space for interpretation; on the other end of the spectrum, a separate work seems too far from a wholly defined self, instead representing a disjointed and incomprehensible combination of media.

The installation that was perhaps most successful in achieving an approachable, yet insightful and even provoking harmony across cultures was American artist Susanne Slavick’s Alexandria series. The space itself follows traditional gallery format, with a total of five framed photographic prints, facing each other from either end of  the room. The muted, neutral colors on the soft Hahnemuhle paper are illuminated by the ethereal light spilling in through a wall of windows, giving particular brightness to a limited touch of gouache in each print. The repeated gouache element renders a magnificently blue, stork-like bird, which Slavick describes as an ibis, interacting minimally with the collapsing structures of the Egyptian landscape prints. The artist’s statement reads beautifully as prose accompanying the illustrations, introducing both the Egyptian mythology of the ibis as a protector, and the relevance of Egypt’s “shifting political narrative” found in the destroyed artifacts. While the ibis brings charm and whimsy, the two mediums exhibit high execution value and are integrated seamlessly, demanding a serious reflection on the dissonance existing between the state of Egypt’s values and its behaviors.

This dissonance appears elsewhere, but never developed with such calm cognition. In Tahrir2, a collaboration between the images of Emily Laychack and three other Sites of Passage Egyptian sound artists produces a confusing multimedia display, exerting raw energy and visual stimulation. Vivid reds depicting protesters in mural-sized photographs, surrounded by spray-painted cartoon heads, don’t quite mesh with the sound element of crowds filling the room, nor the dimensional objects of hanging flags and sand-covered floor. In addition, quirky computer altar sits in one corner, while a telephone in another lets viewers listen to a political interview in the earpiece. In a sense, each element feels so separate as to try to stand on its own, although none seem developed enough to successfully do so. While this clash could merit the artists’ ideas of Tahrir Square’s current clamors, there is no device to first draw in the viewer, keeping the separate entities from ever combining into the viewer’s overall understanding.

The many other multimedia installations resting between these “harmony extremes” of Slavick and Laychack do, however, provide a cohesive journey through contemporary reexaminations and insight into the foreign world of political conflicts. Its demands to raise awareness comes through in partial instances of information and mysterious representations, which should inspire visitors to either come prepared with knowledge of Egypt’s state, or prepared to leave with the motivation to explore the issue further.

Bibliography

“About the Project.” Firefly Tunnels. Firefly Tunnels Project, 2010. Web. 21 Oct 2011. <http://fireflytunnels.net/projekt&gt;.

“Egypt News – Revolution and Aftermath.” New York Times. (2011): n. page. Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/egypt/index.html&gt;.

Laychack, Emily & SITES OF PASSAGE. “Exhibitions: Sites of Passage, Emily Laychack & SITES OF PASSAGE.” The Mattress Factory Art Museum. Mattress Factory, Ltd., 2011. Web. 24 Oct 2011. <http://www.mattress.org/index.cfm?event=ShowArtist&eid=101&id=524&c=Current >

“Sites of Passage.” Mattress Factory. 500 Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. October 20 2011. <http://www.mattress.org>

Slavick, Susanne. “Exhibitions: Sites of Passage, Susanne Slavick.” The Mattress Factory Art Museum. Mattress Factory, Ltd., 2011. Web. 24 Oct 2011.             <http://www.mattress.org/index.cfmevent=ShowArtist&eid=101&id=529&c=Current>.