Carnegie International team searches the world for works

Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

When it's all complete and ready to open the first weekend in October, the 2013 Carnegie International will include works by 35 artists from 19 countries. Finding the artists and traveling to those countries was the job of three curators — Dan Byers, Tina Kukielski and Daniel Baumann — who each traveled the world looking for artworks that not only spoke to one another, but spoke to the world and life at large.

Selected by Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky, the three curators first met in October 2010 at the Frieze Art Fair in London. Since then, all three have moved to Pittsburgh and spent countless hours, days and weeks traveling to artists' studios in far-flung places like Dubai, Vietnam and Lebanon, where Kukielski found herself in the middle of a protest in Beirut during the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011.

“We were very nervous that it could go violent,” Kukielski says. “When we got there, we realized that no one would see us on the Monday that we were there. So we were really worried about how we would spend our time, because no one wanted to travel. They were all worried that the protest would turn into something bigger.”

Luckily, for Kukielski and her companions it didn't. Even a trip to Tehran turned out to be OK.

“ ‘Why are you in Tehran?,' people in the capital continuously asked me.” Kukielski says. “ ‘Why are you going to Tehran?,' my friends wondered. Well, come to Pittsburgh in October 2013, visit the Carnegie International, and you will know. Until then, travel to Tehran, don't believe what you read in the papers, or what they tell you on TV and other media. It's absolutely stunning, it's way too isolated, it's not dangerous, it's big (metropolitan Tehran counts more than 15 million inhabitants), the youth is great, as is suspicion, knowledge, curiosity and hospitality.”

Though they found the works of several of the artists at international art fairs like Frieze in London, Baumann says that finding each artist sometimes started with a simple Internet search.

“The Internet has become very important because it is a place where people with little money can make their work public,” he says. “Not everybody can get into galleries or shows in New York, but there are all kinds of existing sites where artists can upload their images. So, it's a very important tool.”

Baumann says that once they would see something they were interested in, they would check with colleagues to get second opinions.

“And then if we are more interested, we have to go there and see the space, the actual space it was made in,” Baumann says. “(Art) is not just another good that is shipped. It has to be rooted in something that is local, just like things in Pittsburgh are rooted in Pittsburgh. You want to see what is that place so you have a better understanding of what the artist is doing. Does it have a different meaning than what was first expected?”

Though many of the works that will be on display have already been selected, many are still in the process of being created.

So far, a sampling of those selected include:

• A selection of landscapes, real and imagined, by the late American artist Joseph Yoakum (1889-1972), who produced more than 2,000 drawings during the last decade of his life.

• Instruments made from decommissioned weapons by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes.

• Lozziwurm, a playground structure designed by Swiss artist Yvan Pestalozzi in 1972 that is being erected in front of the museum. It will open April 27.

• An animation by Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê that incorporates wartime drawings made by Vietnamese soldiers.

In regard to the latter work, Byers says, “In general, there are a number of works in the show that deal with other people's artworks, as well as artists engaging with other artists' works. I wouldn't say it's a theme, but it's one of the reoccurring ways in which artists are making work.”

“We absolutely decided at the outset not to let the themes be handed down,” Kukielski adds. “We do not want to come up with themes and bestow them onto the artist; rather, we want to work with artists that we believed in and what the themes were came out of that. And that, for us, was very much a response to this homogenate that we saw in wanting to have a diversity of voices and perspectives throughout the exhibit. And by actually doing that, you sort of have to let them exist as the cacophony that they are.”

Byers says that nearly half of the works will be acquired for the museum's permanent collection. The Carnegie International is deeply rooted in the museum, which has hosted the exhibition since 1896. And to prove that point, another component of the exhibition will be the reinstallation of the contemporary wing of the Scaife Galleries, which will house a display of works acquired in conjunction with the International over the past half a century. It will open June 8.

Also that day, the Heinz Architectural Center will open “The Playground Project,” an exhibit focusing on the history of postwar playgrounds.

As to why an art exhibit would include a playground structure and exhibit, Baumann has a simple explanation: “It's also important for us that an artwork not only have a life in a museum or the art world, but it must have a life outside of those walls. (The exhibit) is not just celebrating the art world, (it is) celebrating life.”

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

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