A slip and a slap at the Carnegie

| Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Carnegie Museum of Art obviously has forgotten who bakes its biscotti and caffes its cappuccino, so to speak. For the shot-and-beer crowd, that means Pittsburgh's supposedly pre-eminent gallery for all things art has forgotten who butters its bread.

Not to mention its own history.

Witness the advertising campaign for a current exhibit, "Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective." The show features the avant-garde work (sane people would call it "rank") of the late American painter, sculptor and, ultimately, installation artist who died in 1988.

One endearing display (ahem) at the museum's Heinz Galleries is "Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box" -- a massive facsimile slab of human flesh (hair follicles and hair included) with a protruding segment of medical tubing. Visit before lunch.

But what's even more tasteless is that for one of the billboards used to promote the retrospective, the Carnegie chose a Thek work that features the phrase "Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted" in yellow paint surrounded by a sea of purple.

The saying is a variation of one coined by late 19th- and early 20th-century journalist/humorist Finley Peter Dunne, actually part of a much larger cautioning against some newspapers' proclivity to misuse their power. Since that era, the phrase has been roundly misemployed -- interpreted literally -- by liberal media types and their oftentimes socialist acolytes.

Thus, the Carnegie's use of Mr. Thek's "interpretation" to promote this show is damnable on three fronts. Not only does it promote revisionist history and arrogantly backhand the very benefactors who make the Carnegie Museum of Art possible today, it pillories its very first benefactor and founder, Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Museum management should feign no surprise if Mr. Carnegie's philanthropic heirs slap back.

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