Unblurred, First Friday November 2012

Unblurred: First Friday’s on Penn

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s time for Penn Avenue Arts District to come together and presentUnblurred to the people of Pittsburgh. Featuring a wide variety of well-known and up-and-coming artists alike,Unblurred brings the crowd to Garfield in Pittsburgh, PA. While the prime hours were from 7pm to 10, the art crawl ran from 6pm to 2 in the morning, offering a bit of something for everyone. Children and parents ran around in the early evening, while a young distinctly hipster nightlife came around later in the evening. In all, there isn’t a clear definition of what is and what’s not a part of the event, which allows most of Penn Avenue to become a part of the party. While many locales offer discounts to customers, it’s easy to find cheese, crackers, and drinks to satisfy your palette free of charge.
Artisan featured self-taught documentary photographer Linker Caldwell’s photography of the local LGBTQ scene. If the 2,400 dollars of penny-tiled flooring doesn’t make this place unique enough, this tattoo store/art gallery plans to turn the lower floor into a cafe as well. Modern Formations presented The Good Fight, featuring works by Christian Wolfgang Breitkreutz. Using exaggerated and fantastical wartime imagery, Breitkreutz comments on the inner wars we all face in our daily works. Much of his work alternates between Jesus-like imagery of either himself (as he has a very well groomed beard) or George Harrison.
Andrew Karaman’s “Kaleidoscope” was featured at Imagebox. Manipulated images of hot air balloons and more mundane objects created kaleidoscopic geometric shapes that were intended to spark your imagination. The Most Wanted Art Gallery presented “A Year in The Life”, which featured Instagrammed photography of prices around $20 for sale. A table also allowed gallery crawlers to create their own buttons and wear them out.
The most populated exhibit was found at the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination. Viewers were welcomed in the entrance by The Golden Throats, a fiddle/accordion duo that lifted the spirits of the room and brought children and adults alike to their feet, dancing to the distinct sound of his voice accompanied by exciting fiddle and accordion. “Pittsburgh by Pittsburgh Artists II” featured the works of over 40 artists in one small space, ranging from merely locally known to Andy Warhol and the like. The common theme found in the works was Pittsburgh; one piece was hanging from the ceiling and created by combining collected receipts from supermarket Giant Eagle; an action-packed video piece displayed Steeler Nation and the Pittsburghers who it consists of.
While the art may not be as nearly as well curated or as professionally and technically well done as a museum exhibit,Unblurred brings a variety of locals together to enjoy the Pittsburgh  art scene. While I’ve enjoyed past exhibits I’ve gone to, the socially lively aspect of this art crawl is the reason I know personally I’ll be bringing my friends to this in the future.

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On the evening of November 2nd, several blustery blocks of Penn Ave. became home to migratory bands of hooded hipsters, tattooed punks, and middle-aged art patrons, all bustling from gallery to gallery in the hopes of experiencing some phenomenal art, or at least a decent 15 dollar wine.  The first Friday of every month, Unblurred gives guests a chance to “experience new art and meet the most eclectic array of art makers, old and young, modern and classical, famous and amateur, emerging and veteran, all within walking distance of each other.” Featuring everything from creepy videos of Asian children singing to photographs of cross-dressers, the crawl certainly contains something for everyone. Beyond the actual art, however, another layer of enjoyment is possible – one can expand the scope of his or her experience to include the other gallery crawlers. Certain galleries seem to attract certain people, and it is quite interesting to consider what draws these guests to their exhibition of choice. Taking in Unblurred as an event in its entirety – instead of simply a series of individual exhibits – enhances the experience, and makes for a fascinating evening.

Penn Avenue positively bursts with galleries, which it makes it difficult to begin. Wherever one chooses to start, chances are you’ll eventually stumble upon “Artisan Galleries.” The unassuming structure showcases the work of Caldwell Linker, a documentary filmmaker who focuses on the concerns of the Gay and Trans communities. Scattered across one wall like a haphazard mosaic, his photographs feature men in drag and various stages of undress. Alternatively vulnerable and sneering, these men are quite captivating – however, one gets very little sense of who these men are as individuals. They eventually blur together, until the viewer no longer sees them as individuals, but as representatives of the Gay and Trans communities. This may be intentional on Linker’s part, an attempt to capture the community’s “essence.” By doing so, however, the photographer removes some of his subjects’ humanity, dulling his work’s impact. The other gallery patrons – who sported a great deal of tattoos and piercings – added another dimension to the exhibit, and in some ways provided the humanity that Linker’s photographs lacked.

On the other end of the spectrum from punk-rockers in leather jackets, the crawl also included, among all things, antique shops. However, these establishments – which include galleries like “ARTica” – are not run by some holdover from the Great War, but instead feature youthful proprietors. This almost quizzical state of affairs may indicate a larger cultural obsession, with nostalgia and a hunger for some bygone era revealing an anxiety peculiar to our own age. The “art” of the individual galleries then becomes a part of the crawl as a whole, and an entirely new experience emerges. Nostalgia ties a narrative between several disparate galleries, which casts Linker’s photographs in a new light, and so on. Unblurred is therefore not so much a simple series of art exhibits, but a brisk, near-comprehensive tour of those topics occupying Pittsburgh artists, from the tattooed to the 1920s obsessed.

Works Cited

“Friendship.” Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn ». N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. http://friendship-pgh.org/paai/unblurred/.

“Passports: The Art Diversity Project/ Artica Gallery.”Passports: The Art Diversity Project/ Artica Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. http://passportsart.blogspot.com/.

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Pittsburg Gallery Crawl: Unblurred

The buildings that artists have bought, renovated, and used on the section of Penn Avenue that intersects Garfield and Bloomfield now make up the art scene and community that host the gallery crawl known as Unblurred. It’s preferable to attend during the warmer months so the streets were calm and the gallery crawl-ers could mostly be found hiding inside. As a newcomer coming with expectations from the gallery crawls of downtown, the stark difference of atmosphere and art was a surprise. The event pulls away from the more typical white cube setting into something more community oriented, attracting a more local audience.

After stopping at Awesome Books to pet several rotund felines sprawled over stacks and shelves, I crossed the street to see the International Children’s Art Gallery, whose name is deceiving for a place that doesn’t have much to do with children. There is a rawness to Richard Rappaport‘s huge gestural figure paintings that are propped up on bookshelves and stapled directly to the walls. Further down, Garth Rafacz’s “8-Bit Art” at Garfield Artworks is nostalgic of Nintendo game days. Far from the pristine walls of a standard gallery, the dirty walls of the long room are ridden with nail holes. Small canvases float several inches above a pencil line drawn at eye-level, and it’s hard to find paper cutouts of pixelated characters that are peeling off impressive.

The sign outside Artisan for explicit sexual content – “…you must be 18 or with an open-minded parent or guardian” – doesn’t prepare you for what’s about to be seen. The floor is tiled with pennies, and a single brick wall is covered with photographs by Caldwell Linker depicting a realm that one might not be able to handle live – the queer and trans community and nights of drag debauchery in Pittsburgh. The nature of the subject attracts a certain crowds, and it makes me realise that I haven’t seen many families on this crawl.

A ten-foot fish of recycled metal welcomes you into Wherehouse, a studio space for several artists where paintings, zines, sculpture, and handmade artefacts are sold amongst indescribable piles of “junk” only artists can amass. Any neat freak might suffer a heart attack. The atmosphere is warm; visitors chat to artists, make their own shrines for Dias de la Muertos, and hang out on a shabby spray-painted couch whilst a huge blue paper-mâché face stares down from the ceiling. As for the smell of musty buildings, beer, and marijuana that you might have gotten used to on this crawl, this warehouse surpasses them all.

The crawl is relaxed and amusing, though most works were subpar; but attempting to be something that its not would take away some charm from the experience. Some scenes of the crawl have such character that perhaps Oakland, with the university population to cater to, doesn’t have. Even the lack of labels for work and general information for exhibitions help you chat to artists and get to know a pleasantly odd side of Pittsburgh.

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Unblurred: First Friday on Penn is a monthly gathering for Pittsburgh art enthusiasts. The event spreads out in the Penn Avenue Art District, where a flourishing community of artists shares spaces for working, living, and exhibiting.  In the process of transforming a once declining neighborhood into a distinctive cohabitation of artists and indigenous residents, Friendship Development Associates has played a vital role since the 1990s. Together with the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation,  the FDA developed the Penn Avenue Art Initiatives, a program that sponsors the Unblurred event.Unblurred presents itself as an independent, alternative cultural festivity meant to offer new experiences, although many visitors will find themselves encountering more convenient and familiar images—above all, that of the starving artist and the bohemian lifestyle. While the title Unblurredsuggests clarity brought to confusion, many of the artworks displayed at the event are far from illuminating. Instead, I found most of them only absurd.

The typical gallery experience Unblurred offers consists in work of uneven quality, in exhibitions that lack clear focus. One of the most popular galleries, Modern Formations, shows Christian Wolfgang Breitkreutz’s new painting series The Good Fight. While the space itself is interesting, with a front room representing a minimalist gallery and a back room imitating the backstage of a night club, the artworks on view seem less attractive than their surroundings. Breitkreutz painted the canvas with multiplications of war symbols, such as cannons, giant heads behind barricades, and military flags; in doing so, he called for fighting against the “trumpets of evil sounding off in our brains.” Yet, his works remind me more of a lighthearted comic-strip in a newspaper than a “visual exploration of war,” as he intended.

Another popular site to visit is the Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, where the group-exhibit Pittsburgh by Pittsburgh Artists II had its closing reception. The gallery is packed with works by fifty local artists, including Andy Warhol and the center’s benefactress, Irma Freeman. The gallery welcomes its visitors with a folk music performance, and small children spontaneously dancing and crawling on the floor. This atmosphere of a warm party at home fits the center’s mission statement, according to which it aims to create a place where people can gain a sense of environmental and human responsibility.

While some venues resemble commercial art galleries, several spaces demonstrate alternative models. Assemble: A Community Space for Arts + Technology, is primitive in its setting and the works it shows, both of which call to mind the art classroom of a kindergarten. The International Children’s Art Gallery, however, in spite of its name, shows nothing remotely related to children’s art. When I visited, I saw only large-scale abstract nudes, displayed in a warehouse-like interior stripped down to its minimum.

As absurd or unsatisfying as my gallery experience on Penn Avenue may have been, I came to see that it was inappropriate to evaluate such an event as any kind of “gallery experience” at all, according to the tradition that professional display spaces have established. Above all, Unblurred establishes a framework that artists can more democratically enter, one that solicits involvement from members of the local community.


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