Pittsburgh Center for the Arts triples up on exhibits

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 8:59 p.m.

The first all-white painting can be traced back to Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich's “White on White,” which he painted in 1918. Malevich's intent with the work was to create a “pure feeling” in the viewer, in effect the result of stripping art down to its essence.

Since then, several artists such as Ad Reinhart, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman have tried to do the same, with Ryman building an entire career out of putting white paint on everything from canvas to sheets of aluminum.

Featuring the work of 21 artists from throughout the region, the exhibit “White Show,” on display at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, continues in that vein with all-white works, to varying degrees, that prove, yet again, that a lot can be done with the color white.

For example, using nothing more than white tape Delanie Jenkins displays two texture-laden pieces — “Red Pearl I and II” — comprised of all white-on-white compositions that come alive with subtle shifts in shadows as you move in front of them.

The same can be said of Jaq Belcher's cut-paper pieces “Opening” and “Humanity,” in which slightly raised designs create an overall pattern of shadow and texture that brings delight to the eyes when moving around them.

In three dimensions instead of two, Mark Franchino has fashioned an entire vanity set out of all-white materials, right down to two soap dispensers — one of the bottle variety, the other wall-hung — each carved out of a solid bar of white soap. And Michael Kukla has made three interior worlds out of blocks of white marble with his pieces “Star 1,” “Riser 1” and “Beneath Sky,” which will grab the viewer's attention for the obvious skill required to carry out such intricately designed and laboriously carved web-like designs in solid marble.

The remaining artists have undergone similar explorations in solid and void, with Eva Faye's “Punctured Painting #6 and #5” being the next best example.

“White Show” is just one of three group exhibitions on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. “Small Step Giant Leap” and “Romancing the Tone” take up the second half of the center's second-floor galleries, and are just as worthy a visit as the “White Show.”

“Small Step Giant Leap” is the third exhibit featuring the work of a local artist collective calling themselves “Keystone West.” The eight Pittsburgh-based artists in the group meet regularly to discuss their work and their art-making process. And, as can be seen in this exhibit, the processes vary greatly. Ranging from Thommy Conroy's traditionally themed, foxhunt oil painting “The huntsman knows all his hounds,” to Tommy Bones' “NOVA ELLIPSIS,” a model of a space station ingeniously cobbled together from reclaimed materials, such as plastic squirt-bottle tops and electronic parts.

Other standout works on display in this exhibit include ingeniously combined ink and embroidery pieces by Carolyn Kelly, and a witty found-object sculpture by David Montano titled “Correspondent” that requires a little thought to pay off with a punchline in the end.

Finally, “Romancing the Tone” features the language-based works of half a dozen artists who each utilizes text as an entry point for the viewer to actively “read” the work.

For example, Lenka Clayton's “Accidental Haiku,” is comprised of several pages from a partly completed diary from 1975 that the artist found. Though each of the eight pages (among many) of the diary on display are made up of entries that include the day's weather, along with a brief description of the same day's activities, surprisingly each entry accidentally adheres to the rules of the Japanese poetic form Haiku, which Clayton has flagged with Post-It note tags.

Other works by Clayton on display are just as compelling. They include “New York Day,” which is another found notebook filled with a travel itinerary from a 12-hour trip to New York, and “Condolence,” which is the back part of an empty notebook Clayton found, then covering it with a charcoal rub, discovered the remnants (in relief) of a letter of condolence. This latter piece has both a haunting quality and an element of policework, making it all the more interesting.

Adding a humorous twist to this exhibit, Corey Escoto displays three thrift-store sweaters darned with ironic sayings — “Mindless Usages of Profane Language,” “Gestures of Intimacy Left Unreciprocated” and “Inappropriate Jokes and Bad Timing.” Jokes in and of themselves, they are, nevertheless, just as fun to look at as objects of craft as they are to read.

The remaining text-driven works on display are a bit more obscure in their focus, but just as worthy of investigation.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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