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Large installation pieces highlight this year's juried exhibition at the Three Rivers Arts Festival

| Saturday, June 3, 2017, 5:09 p.m.
'First Avenue Part II : Urban Decay' by Don 'DonCee' Coulter
Submitted
'First Avenue Part II : Urban Decay' by Don 'DonCee' Coulter
'Sleepover' by Sidney Mullis
Submitted
'Sleepover' by Sidney Mullis
'The Sleeping Bear' by Zachariah Szabo, 2016
Submitted
'The Sleeping Bear' by Zachariah Szabo, 2016
'Cul-De-Sac' by Jason Lee
Kurt Shaw
'Cul-De-Sac' by Jason Lee
'Untitled, From Indoor Voices” by Hannah Altman
Submitted
'Untitled, From Indoor Voices” by Hannah Altman

A perennial favorite for visitors to the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the “Juried Visual Art Exhibition” is a must-see component of the festival every year. And this year is no different, with more than 50 exceptional works by 48 regional artists, you will want to make it an important stop among the many other exhibits on display.

The exhibit reflects solid choices by jurors Lee Parker, the founder and executive director of Neu Kirche Contemporary; multidisciplinary artist John Pena; and mixed-media artist Lenore D. Thomas.

“This year the jurors chose a lot of large installation pieces and sculpture,” says the organizer of the exhibit, Ivette Spradin, herself a fine art photographer and video artist who says that displaying it all proved to be a challenge.

“It needed space, so how to design that and fit it all in so that the pieces would converse with one another was important,” Spradin says.

To that end, the exhibit — located on the fourth floor of the Trust Education Arts Center ­— flows beautifully, with three-dimensional works perfectly placed, and paced, between two-dimensional ones.

For example, Jenna Boyles' digital print “2016.xlsx” hangs as a colorful backdrop behind Jason Lee's “Cul-De-Sac” sculpture, creating a dialog all its own. Here, Lee's “little pink houses” in “Cul-De-Sac,” which assert middle-class aspirations, are accentuated by the spreadsheet that is the basis for Boyle's piece.

“For ‘2016.xlsx,' each week for a year I entered my monetary transactions into an Excel spreadsheet, using it as a budget and tool for self-assessment of material consumption,” explains Boyles, a Fayette County native who is currently living in Chicago while a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Over time, the color-coded system I used created a pattern that began to function as a visual record of memory linked to place and experience. When 2016 ended, I printed the spreadsheet on fabric because I wanted the work to have movement and intended the large scale (5 yards in length) to both conceal and reveal information.”

While the text is legible, the print extends past a readable height. “It's an interesting visual object but I hope viewers find it relatable and reflective of something familiar,” Boyles says. “As an artist, I am fascinated by how individuals process, share and experience the vast amount of material and information in the world.”

Another interesting sculptural installation worth noting is “Sleepover” by Sidney Mullis of State College, which is based on her own prepubescent memories regarding relationships.

“I employ materials that are suitable for kid's crafts to extend a juvenile point of view,” Mullis says.

Here two interlocking pieces balance together against the wall rising 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide (amazingly without any hardware). An abstract composition filled with shiny fabric and purple balloons, each seemingly incongruous part undoubtedly relates to the other.

Zachariah Szabo does this in similar fashion with his photographic composition “The Sleeping Bear.”

A pigment print on adhesive paper, curiously adhered to one wall as opposed to being framed, it is a still-life photograph inspired by his childhood memories as well.

“The objects in the photograph are placed together to create an environment in an effort to rebuild the spaces in which I grew up,” says Szabo, who currently lives in the Mexican War Streets section of Pittsburgh's North Side. “For example, the background reminds me of the wallpaper in the music hall where I took piano lessons, and the butterfly figure is similar to the kinds of objects my mother would collect.”

It's worth noting that Szabo's photograph is composed in-camera, meaning there was no digital collage done in Photoshop.

“The combination of patterns, textures, colors, and figures in my work are designed to provoke feelings of memory and family for my viewers,” Szabo says. “My juxtapositions are tailored to reference fragments of memories from childhood so that viewers can reflect upon notions of family and time. If even to only make one think of childhood and how familiar, yet distant.”

Another standout photograph is “Untitled, From Indoor Voices” by Hannah Altman of the South Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

“My piece in the show is a photograph of my mother (Dawn Altman) and me,” Altman says. “It's an image from a continuous project that we work on together called ‘Indoor Voices.' We began this project in 2015, and use these self-portraits as a platform to talk about intergenerational womanhood, as well as our personal relationship to each other.”

Altman says this image is part of a larger body of work that discusses family, intimacy and femininity, and how these aspects of life change over time. “I'm interested in the viewer's reaction to the images for sure, because the idea of motherhood and that relationship is something that's both so personal and universal,” she says.

Though the exhibit has a near equal amount of 2-D work and 3-D, one unusual two-dimensional piece is a real showstopper.

At first glance, “First Avenue Part II : Urban Decay” by Don Coulter of Columbus, Ohio, looks like a painting, but it is actually an elaborate collage comprised of carefully cut and pasted pieces of leather, suede, denim and other, various fabrics.

Coulter, who goes by “DonCee,” says the inner-city scene depicted is also a memory-based piece that “takes place sometime around the mid-'90s.”

“This is the second of three works that tells the story of a neighborhood going through transformation,” he says. “Part II features a community devastated by middle-class flight and limited opportunity. The once thriving businesses are no longer present except for a corner store and barbershop. The backdrop of abandoned/vacant buildings created a perfect storm for a new element to take over the neighborhood. This is a fictitious piece inspired by the neighborhood where I grew up.”

Many of the remaining works on display have the same dual personal/universal qualities, making for an engaging exhibit in which most will find at least a piece or two that is personally profound.

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic.

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