Category Archives: Emma Eichner

Emma Eichner: Review of Cathy Wilkes’ Show at the CMoA (Word Count: 311)

Cathy Wilkes’ display of work at the Carnegie Museum of Art is baffling in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a simple way to define it.  At first, it appeared to be a sculpture exhibition, with tables set up displaying objects, artifacts of her life, conveying a theme of not only personal nostalgia but also generating a sense of historical significance.  It was clear that many of the things displayed ultimately related back to Wilkes’ own past, there was a certain antiquity and archival quality about the display that made it seem like they held importance in a history that expands beyond the artist. This fostered a bizarre ‘pseudo-past,’ forcing one to consider what was fabricated and what was reality, especially since influence of the Battle of Somme does indeed resonate in her work.

The life-size, yet not quite anatomically correct figures in the exhibition also bred an eerie familiarity and artifact-like quality.  The garb on the two male figures in the room was reminiscent of what one might find mannequins at a museum’s wartime exhibition wearing.  The woman figure (notably the biggest form) was arguably the most dramatic; her contorted body seeming to defy gravity, and her face portraying expression beyond human recognition.  Along with a baby doll eerily sticking its tongue out plus others, the figures in the room conveyed an uneasiness that wafted throughout the space.

Although there were many unsettling, yet fascinating things about the work itself, I was somewhat distracted by the confusion of the space. Was it an installation? Sculpture show? Artifact exhibition?  I found myself thinking, “I know I’m not able to touch any of this stuff, so why is it so tempting to pick it up and examine it?”  It led me to believe that Wilkes perhaps intended this inner conflict, adding to the discomfort already being derived from her work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Carnegie Museum of Art Announces Cathy Wilkes Exhibition.” Museum Publicity. Museum Publicity.com, 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2011. <Carnegie Museum of Art Announces Cathy Wilkes Exhibition>.

“Cathy Wilkes.” Carnegie Museum of Art. Web. 05 Dec. 2011.             <http://web.cmoa.org/?page_id=3530&gt;.

Emma Eichner: Review of Factory Installed at the Mattress Factory (Word Count: 512)

You walk into a dimly lit room.  You get that feeling that you’re not alone—the hairs on the back of your neck stand up—the unsettling, indoor breeze sends a chill up your spine.  Then you hear it: a disembodied breath followed by a creak of footsteps across a wooden floor.  No, this isn’t some horror movie, it happens to be the experience you’re in for when you visit Factory Installed at the Mattress Factory.  Not only do the pieces foster the sense of the uncanny, some of the atmosphere created is downright nightmarish—which, despite sounding like a bad horror movie cliché, actually ties the show together and maintains an intriguing balance between the fascinating and the terrifying.

The show, a result of an open call for submissions and brief residencies for six artists to create their installations, is impressive for the mere fact that the pieces ended up tying together so well.  The installations aim to manipulate the spaces of the Mattress Factory, and the most successful works were able to fully engage the space, creating an environment to encapsulate the viewer.

An example of a work that achieved this would be Pablo Valbuena’s “Para-Site.”  Using a simple video projection onto the architecture of the existing room, Valbuena piece alters visual perception so subtly, that to be honest, at first I was unsure if the room was changing or if I was imagining things.  To know that he was able to make me question my own mental and visual cognition was noteworthy.  Due to this, the piece is mesmerizing, to a point where it is hard to walk away.

Another work to utilize subtlety and mystique to create an eerie feeling was Natalia Gonzalez’s “Light Recordings.” In yet another creepy space of the Mattress Factory, Gonzalez employs objects to play with light, shadow, and, once again, the viewer’s mind.  I walked into this installation space, blinded initially by a stage light pointed directly at the entrance. However, I was captivated enough by the rest of the installation that I barely noticed a shift; all of a sudden I was in shadow and a glaring light came from the other side of the room.  Not only was it a “wait, wasn’t that ligh—hmm,” moment, but again, I was impressed with the mind trick, the altering of my perception of time and space.

The uncanny, another theme that carried throughout most of the show, is exemplified by Nika Kupyrova’s “Roadkill” room.  Items scattered throughout the stark white room teetered between being cute and disturbing—some of them eerily similar to bodily figures, yet cold and inanimate at the same time.  Along these lines, “Thesethose,” by Mariana Mahaes, uses the most electronic, cold objects to create an ‘alive’ organism, taking desperate, mechanical ‘breaths’.  These strange contradictions also added to the nightmarish quality of the overall show.

All in all, it is undeniably impressive that the six international artists were able to create such a cohesive show, bringing together their visions while maintaining a theme that was surprisingly significant across cultural bounds.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Factory Installed.” The Mattress Factory Art Museum. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.             <http://www.mattress.org/index.cfm?event=ShowExhibition&gt;.

Emma Eichner: Teenie Harris: Talent To Be Appreciated (Word Count: 606)

Although it is necessary to consider the historical context of art to fully appreciate the intent of the work, history itself is not too often laced into aesthetics.  However, with Charles “Teenie” Harris’ rather large body of work being exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the history and culture of an era are portrayed through brilliant photography, clueing the viewer into a time period social and cultural vivaciousness, glamour and style.

The setup of the exhibit was undeniably unique.  With such a vast amount of photos available to the viewer, the experience of viewing became pure entertainment itself.  Entering the gallery space one is immediately presented with huge wall to ceiling photos, one a self-portrait of Teenie himself, smiling coyly. Walking around the corner, the audience is immediately immersed in a new world.  Smooth jazz echoes through the darkly lit space.  Seating invites the viewer to take a seat and witness several slideshows playing at once, broken down into categories.  The images scroll through, each one begging for attention, which I found to be slightly overwhelming, as they shuffled through fairly fast.  Regardless, I realized that I would have been able to stay in that room for hours.  As mentioned, the presentation style held more entertainment value than what is normally associated with these commemorative exhibits.  Instead of relying solely on the photographs to be visually stimulating, the show as a whole took an aesthetic and artistic direction.

Sitting and watching the slideshow, I was panicking–thinking about (but not dreading) staying to see it through multiple times, I didn’t want to miss a thing.  After begrudgingly deciding to move on, I was much relieved when I reached the next room, which gridded all of the photos along the walls in chronological order.  Not only was this a smart arrangement in the sense that the viewer could examine the photos at their own discretion, but it also helped to emphasize the history that plays such a heavy role in Harris’ work.  I was also thoroughly overjoyed with the option to look through the pictures on the computers available in the center of the gallery space.  With all of these different formats, the viewer assumes an interactive role, boosting curiosity and interest levels.

The detail put into the collection, presentation, and historical significance of the work allowed the characters and aesthetics featured in the actual photographs to shine.  Even the most mundane image proved to be intriguing upon further review.  A true window into the times, the faces of the people in each photograph seemed as though they would come to life at any second.  Even the most stiff, awkward, posed person possessed a distinct livelihood that still came across, proving how gifted Harris truly was at capturing personality and emotionality.

The final room of the exhibition held some gelatin prints of a select group of photographs.  By this point, I was relatively familiar with each print already, having scrolled my way through the collection on the computers several times, but seeing them in yet another format was breathtaking.  One photo stuck with me beyond any of the others.  “Little Boy Boxer” from 1945 was perhaps one of the most striking images I have seen my entire life—a young boy in the corner of a boxing ring, with a large smile and a single tear running down his face.  To capture so conceptual depth out of a real time, real life situation is unbelievably impressive.

It is readily apparent through the exhibition of his work at the Carnegie that Teenie Harris possessed a talent that deserves to be celebrated in this incredibly informative, extensive exhibition.

Bibliography

“Documenting Our Past: The Teenie Harris Archive.” Carnegie Museum of Art. Web.  15 Nov. 2011. <http://www.cmoa.org/teenie/exhibition.asp&gt;.

“Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story.” Carnegie Museum of Art. Web. 15  Nov. 2011. <http://web.cmoa.org/?page_id=327&gt;.

Emma Eichner: Review of Unblurred, Reblurred Gallery Crawl (Word Count: 765)

Wandering around the streets of East Liberty and Friendship at night wouldn’t probably seem like the smartest idea for two young women, Carter and myself, on a chill November night.  The Unblurred, Reblurred gallery crawl along Penn Ave held up to my expectations, probably due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting much. To be quite honest, it wasn’t the most redeeming of experiences for the sketchiness involved.  However, there were many hidden gems that added to the whimsy of the night, which saved the experience as a whole, as well as individuals whose friendliness and willingness to talk to a stranger fostered a neighborly spirit that once again is very characteristic of Pittsburgh and its people.

Although the gallery crawl seemingly had much to offer from perusing the post about it in the Pittsburgh Art Blog, in reality, it was hard to navigate.  As time passed and temperatures dropped, places seemed to grow farther and farther away than was pleasant to walk.  Carter and I also found ourselves questioning whether certain places were involved in the crawl or not.

The Pittsburgh Glass Company perhaps had the most convincing setup for a gallery crawl—with the classic snack and drink table, along with captivating demonstrations on glassblowing and an exhibition to check out involving a miniature, stylized version of the surrounding neighborhood by Gwylene Gallimard and Jean Marie Mauclet.  The glassblowing certainly kept an audience, it’s not everyday that you get to witness the workings of such professionals—constantly adjusting the temperature and shape of the molten glass—mesmerizing in itself to watch.  However, the mini house collection left something to be desired, with nothing to grab a viewer’s attention much beyond its simple vicinity to the snack table.

As we continued our journey down Penn Ave, we stopped at a small convenience store to pick up a drink, bombarded by stares of amazement that two young ladies would even find themselves in such a place.  It became clearer that this part of town didn’t attract much of a crowd like us, which was strange due to the fact that apparently these gallery crawls happen several times a year.

Our last stop of the night was at first discouraging, but turned into being the redemption of the crawl, ending in interesting conversation with some local artists.  The place—BFG Café—is not much beyond what one would classify as a small pizza joint: complete with a classic casino arcade game featuring a vintage style pinup girl.  Some of the paintings, especially those by Tate Hudson, were quirky and aesthetically interesting, however it was far from a pristine gallery setting, drawing attention away from their most intriguing features.  The lighting was dull and fluorescent, which was further accentuated by a layer of varnish coating most of the pieces.  It proved to be distracting to have to battle a huge glare when trying to appreciate the art.  The skill of the painters exhibiting in the Café was highly varied, some work coming off as quite amateurish, while others held more validity.

As we made our rounds, collected some more confused stares from patrons, and were about to move on, the owner of the place stopped us, noting that a few artists were actually right around the corner, and would be worth talking to.  Without hesitation, we jumped at the opportunity to talk to some local artists.  The three of them sat around the generic metal table, everyday Janes and Joe, staring up blankly at us, once again probably confused on how two young girls wandered into this area of the neighborhood.

Talking to them was pleasant and informative.  Refusing to dwell much on their work, they talked instead about how hard it is to make a living doing art in Pittsburgh.  Susan Wagner, the only one of the them actually working actively as an artist, said little in the conversation, leaving her colleagues to boast for her about her sculptures being exhibited in PNC Park.  From their brief introduction and a little Google search, I was able to discover the names of the other two: Joe Witzel, and Linda Ricketts.  Despite the challenges of creating art on the fly, the three will be having a show, November through January, called “Three’s Company,” at the PANZAgallery in Millvale, to which they so graciously invited us to attend.

While Unblurred itself may have been somewhat of a let down, the experience once again demonstrated the usefulness of getting up and walking around the town—you never know who you may encounter and the experience is almost always worth it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

http://web.mac.com/panzagallery/Panza_Gallery/ENTER.html

Byerly, Rick. “Unblurred Is Reblurred Nov 4, 2011 Friday.” The Pittsburgh Art Blog.  19 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Nov. 2011.             <http://pittsburghgalleries.blogspot.com/2011/10/unblurred-is-reblurred-          nov-4-2011.html>.

 

 

Emma Eichner: Review of Gertrude’s/LOT (Word Count: 616)

The Pittsburgh Biennial has undeniably shed light on some wonderful things that have been derived from this seemingly gray, uninspired city.  At the Andy Warhol Museum, the exhibition of Gertrude’s/LOT as part of the Biennial, provides insight into the work of incredibly talented female artists whose lives have been entwined with this ‘city of bridges.’  The show is heavily laced with references to the female gender, whether through the work itself or simply by the context of the artist herself in the contemporary art world.  Yes, gender roles and sexuality are matters that are oft explored in art, and if dealt with improperly, the work can come off as one-note and repetitive.  But throughout Gertrude’s/LOT, although much of the work dealt directly with feminism, there were other pieces in which it seemed as though the gender of the artist influenced the concept unintentionally, which added subtlety to the issue of gender, a nice change from the heated, in-your-face politics of other exhibitions.  Due to the theme of the exhibition, the voice behind each piece had feminine bias simply as a result of the fact that it was included in this all female show.  To think that the mere inclusion of the work in the show immediately placed pieces in the context of feminism, whether a desirable effect or not, fostered an atmosphere that begged the questions of what it still means to be a woman in society, how other women are answering that, and what the implications are of the work women create.

Some of the pieces dealt with the topic of womanhood very directly, such as “Minstrel Blood: The Greatest Show on Earth! Everything You Need Fo Yo Menstrual Show,” by Vanessa German—a striking piece that immediately catches the eye as soon as you enter the gallery space, demanding attention from use of eerie gospel sounds, vintage-looking signage and nightmarish female figurines in an old-timey puppet theater, all weighted down with a variety of objects including hair, small baby dolls, and even an iron.  Not only does the piece deal with sexuality, but race as well.  The interconnection of these two subjects and the oppression of both force the audience to consider a historical context. As Ms. German says in the Post-Gazette: “The piece speaks historically to the role of African-American women and about owning the power of survival and transcendence.”

Other genderized pieces in the show ranged from Jill Miller’s Milk Truck to the Teresa Foley’s ventriloquist dummy.  For both of the pieces, a sense of humor is necessary, and it was quite refreshing to see women taking on the challenge of comedic art—as it often difficult to incorporate humor without being corny—whether you’re male or female.  I felt as though the Milk Truck video fell short of achieving complete success on this front, the mock public service announcement setup coming off as a little too clichéd.  However, the Milk Truck in execution is a scene to be held around town: running into the truck-turned-giant-boob around CMU’s campus creates a far more provocative and intriguing concept.  The ventriloquism by T. Foley, on the other hand, was unquestionably hilarious, breaking a smile onto anyone’s face who walked up to it, mostly due to the way it dealt the anonymity and ridiculousness interactions of social networking.  In an article for the Post-Gazette, Foley claims: “I’m curious about what people want to share with other people and in what people have to share about their experiences in the world. That’s what I love about social media.” An entertaining way to look at the sexualized nature of virtual interactions, Foley’s piece tied back into the theme of sex and gender that flows throughout the show.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Foley, Teresa. “Ventwittoquisms.” Ventwittoquisms. Web. 01 Nov. 2011.             <http://ventwittoquisms.tumblr.com/&gt;.

McCoy, Adrian. “Hector: One Dummy with Many Voices — Maybe Even Yours.” Post-Gazette.com. 27 June 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <http://www.post-       gazette.com/pg/11178/1156210-325.stm>.

Venishnick, Anna. “My Generation / Female Power: Artist Vanessa German.” Post-Gazette.com. 6 Sept. 2011. Web. 01 Nov. 2011. <http://www.post-       gazette.com/pg/11249/1172453-51.stm>.

Emma Eichner: A Review of ‘Sites of Passage’: The Blending of Culture and Politics (Word Count: 748)

Working with subject matter that is politically charged has its inevitable benefits and disadvantages.  While the content can be intensified due to controversy in politics, there is a fine line between being profound and being clichéd.  In the show, Sites of Passage, at the Mattress Factory, many artists’ works danced along this line, some of them being able to invoke the perfect amount of contemplation, while others inevitably fell into the trap of becoming predictable political commentary.

Sites of Passage is the exhibition of work from a project known as the “Firefly Tunnels,” brainchild of Tavia La Follette.  Egyptian and American artists work collaboratively in this ‘virtual lab’ of sorts, exchanging ideas as well as creating together. “Firefly Tunnels aim to create a global network of experimental artists who can communicate and work together through this virtual performance art lab. Our vision of a cooperative lab stems from the belief that the arts & symbolic communication can reach humanity on a deeper level than rhetoric, which is often times misinterpreted” (http://fireflytunnels.net/vision).

The show as a whole holds together through the exploration of subject matter dealing with culture and identity, as well as this juxtaposition of American and Egyptian artists.  The interplay between various mindsets and backgrounds add layers of intrigue to the exhibition, and the identity of each artist arguably plays a distinct role in the read of the work.

Upon entrance to the gallery space, you are confronted by Egyptian-born Amado Al Fadni’s “Passport Agency” installation: a mock airport setting, complete with takeaway Visa applications and a wooden body ‘scanner’.  As if bizarrely being transported into a different country, the viewer is immediately estranged through this greeting, setting an appropriate mood for the rest of the presented work.  It posed the question: who exactly are the ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ of this show? As I progressed through the gallery, it appeared that much of the work transcended these categories, the nationality of the artist became a guessing game, furthering the notion of art as a universal language.

Although I found Al Fadni’s work to be pleasantly kitschy, it shared the room with another installation—a collaboration, “Over My Dead Body,” by Noha Redwan, Mark Bellaire, Holly Thurma, with graffiti art by Matt J. Hunter—which somewhat missed the mark.  Initially, the work came across as impressive, utilizing bus seats and including intimate and expressive audio through the use of headphones.  However, the more time spent with it only revealed its less appealing features.  I found the aesthetics to be distracting: the combination of the imagery with the audio and the objects all just seemed like too much.  I understood the “street art” vibe that perhaps they were aiming to achieve, but the graffiti seemed too much like sketchy doodles, and the mixture of actual, painted graffiti with digitally manipulated images just didn’t mesh well aesthetically.

The installation on the third floor of the gallery, “Tahrir Squared” had much of the same overdone qualities.  Individual elements of the room would have been sufficient were they exhibited alone.  It could be said that the payphone with droning, yet mesmerizing political audio would have been an exceptional and engaging piece…if displayed by itself.   But by combining the graffiti, multimedia collage work (which technically looked a little sloppy), audio, etc., it just didn’t come off as cohesive.  Both “Tahrir Squared” and “Over My Dead Body,” seemed disjointed, making it hard to grasp any depth conceptually or aesthetically.

Thankfully, there were other pieces that possessed a subtlety that contrasted these overstimulating works, which was much appreciated.  In a quiet room on the second floor, American Suzanne Slavick’s delicately rendered paintings were displayed in an unassuming manner on crisp, antiqued white walls, allowing the pieces to speak to (instead of shout at) the viewer.  Like other artwork in the show, her “Alexandria” series of paintings were multimedia, featuring digital prints of war-torn scenery on which she depicted a painted ibis, omnipotent and graceful amongst the scenes of destruction.  Simplicity clearly worked in her favor, as no one element in her paintings distracted from her intent, allowing me to derive my own commentary.

If anything, the exhibition as a project itself is commendable.  Considering the political tensions of today’s society, it is inspiring to see the collaboration of artists from varying backgrounds, creating works that speak to relevant political situations.  Regardless of the fact that some pieces spoke a little to brashly; it remained worthwhile to explore the results of this unique blending of cultures.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Thomas, Mary. “Two Art Exhibits Tussle with Political Issues: Post-9/11 and Arab Spring.” Post-Gazette.com. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 07 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11250/1172578-437-0.stm&gt;.

“Current Exhibition: Sites of Passage.” The Mattress Factory Art Museum. Mattress Factory, Ltd., 09 Sept. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.             <http://www.mattress.org/index.cfm?event=Exhibitions&gt;.

La Follette, Tavia. “Firefly Tunnels.” Firefly Tunnels Project. 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.  <http://fireflytunnels.net/&gt;.

Emma Eichner: The Collection of Eric Shiner: Art as Atmosphere (Word Count: 511)

The neighborhood certainly wasn’t what I expected: the kind of place where you double check to make sure you’ve locked the car.  However, after climbing the stairs to the second floor of an unassuming building there was an entirely different atmosphere.  Entering the apartment of Eric Shiner, director of the Warhol Museum, was like being transported into a hip art hub, where established contemporary art is juxtaposed with the up and coming, next best thing.  The warmth exuded by the wood-paneled walls, the adorable dachshund, Nero, happily greeting all the guests, and of course the ample amount of bizarre yet beautiful contemporary art created a space that is not only inviting, but also inspiring.  This was a place that not only art lovers would enjoy, but artists themselves.

The eclectic mix of intentional “low-brow” kitsch and “high-brow” gallery art created a laidback, entertaining atmosphere, intensified by smatterings of quirky, textual wit along with silly as well as thought-provoking imagery, such as Ain Cocke’s painting of Jackie Kennedy holding Oswald’s shotgun.  Although sometimes confusing to distinguish between the art and the thrift store décor, the jumble produced a surprisingly pleasant effect.  The apartment as a whole evolved into a work of art on its own terms: arguably the self-portrait of Eric Shiner himself.

Speaking to Shiner, it was evident that his collection not only represents his tastes, but many aspects of his life.  He spoke fondly of the narratives behind each piece, reminiscing about the experiences he associated with them.  “Make sure you don’t take notes the entire time, because art is meant to be experienced,” he advised.  This held true, much of the time the stories and the work were so captivating, that I could barely catch names and titles as he went off on a humorous anecdote.  However, it was clear that even for him, that stuff’s just not that important.  It was obvious that his collection wasn’t meant to be an investment, but rather, it was formed out of a deep love and appreciation for art in general.  His passions of Japanese photography, portraiture and a dark, sometimes racy wit were apparent throughout the collection, like with Ginger Brooks Takahashi’s driftwood dildos hung from the ceiling in an installation.

Shiner explained that picking works for his home is much different than for a museum, as he does not aim for any particular narrative.  Instead, he chooses pieces that speak to him on a personal level.  The way he organizes, hangs, and even cleans them (himself, mind you) cultivates connections between the works and his existence in the space.  The way Shiner approaches the artwork once it is in his home almost subtracts the artist from the equation, such as with Brendan Fernandes’ fake deer wearing an African mask displayed amongst the potted plants. Its placement apparently annoys the heck out of Fernandes, and Mr. Shiner has no apologies. Just as an artist changes existing materials into something completely unique, Shiner has molded his own atmosphere in a similar way, resulting in an amazing space that captivates all who enter.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sheridan, Patricia. “Warhol Museum Curator Has an Eye for Home Decorating |   Deseret News.” Salt Lake City and Utah Breaking News, Sports, Entertainment  and News Headlines – Deseret News. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 Jan. 2010.          Web. 17 Oct. 2011.             <http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705357521/Warhol-museum-            curator-has-an-eye-for-home-decorating.html?pg=1>.