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Art & Museums

Mattress Factory founder Barbara Luderowski dies at 88

Mary Pickels
| Thursday, May 31, 2018, 12:33 p.m.
Mattress Factory co-directors Michael Olijnyk and Barbara Luderowski are shown with board chair Michael White, Urban Garden Party, Mattress Factory, North Side, in this 2017 photo. The Mattress Factory announced Luderowski's death on May 30.
John Altdorfer
Mattress Factory co-directors Michael Olijnyk and Barbara Luderowski are shown with board chair Michael White, Urban Garden Party, Mattress Factory, North Side, in this 2017 photo. The Mattress Factory announced Luderowski's death on May 30.

Mattress Factory founder Barbara Luderowski died on Wednesday, the North Side museum announced on its Facebook page.

"It is with profound sadness that the Mattress Factory museum announces the passing of its founder and creative spirit, Barbara Luderowski. Our Mattress Factory family remains committed to her vibrant experiment that is the Mattress Factory with her artistic vision in our hearts and her tenacity in our souls," the post said.

Luderowski was 88.

Any future arrangements or memorial plans will be announced at a later date, museum spokeswoman Katie Urich said.

"We are still making plans and waiting for her family to arrive," she said.

Urich declined to release details surrounding Luderowski's cause of death, noting she valued her privacy.

"She hadn't been well for some time," she said.

In comments posted on the site, Luderowski is remembered for doing "many amazing things for the Northside and arts community in Pittsburgh" and with gratitude "for her vision and contributions to the art world and local community over the years."

"Pittsburgh has lost a legend," one person wrote.

Founded in 1977, the Mattress Factory is a contemporary art museum and experimental lab featuring site-specific installations created by artists in residence from around the world, according to its website.

In an earlier Tribune-Review story , former art critic Graham Shearing reviewed the museum's first 25 years from a talk Luderowski and co-director Michael Olijnyk gave about the building's transformation.

"In the early days, the charm of the Mattress Factory rested in its primitive and chaotic arrangements. Most striking of all was the elevator, once designed for transporting mattresses (one imagines) and terrifyingly rickety. This scary contraption hoisted visitors (holding their breath) from floor to floor. Today, a new elevator, scarcely swifter but sensibly safer, does its duty. The pattern of the upstairs galleries remains much the same. The museum's practice is to retain the architectural bones, and allowing, on a regular basis, complex but essentially temporary installations in the space. Last year, a large room built with thousands of pounds of paraffin wax filled one gallery. Today it is filled with a massive confection of barbed wire and balloons. Over the years, hundreds of installations have come and gone. A few have been allowed to remain permanently," Shearing writes.

The article also notes Luderowski's "property developer" instincts, saving a site once scheduled for demolition and transforming it into an internationally known museum.

A city's loss

In a March tweet, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald recognized Luderowski's accomplishments as a Women's History Month honoree.

In a prepared statement, Fitzgerald expressed condolences to Luderowski's friends and family upon her May 30 passing.

"Barbara was a true visionary and dynamic force for the thriving and nationally renowned arts community we have in Pittsburgh. Her and Michael Olijnyk's leadership at the Mattress Factory and beyond has helped lead Pittsburgh to the vibrancy we see today," he said.

"The Mattress Factory is the second most visited place in the county (Warhol Museum being first) as people flock to its iconic art displays and welcoming place. It has been a magnet in bringing young talent to Pittsburgh and helping forge new economic growth for the region," he said.

"Pittsburghers are fortunate that (Luderowski's) talents and vision were here for us to enjoy and her legacy will endure for many years to come," Fitzgerald said.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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