Cultures converge at Carnegie International's public opening
Each time the Carnegie International debuts at the Carnegie Museum of Art, it shoots to the top of Janet McCall's to-do list.
The Gibsonia resident has been to every exhibit since the mid-1970s.
“This is a really huge thing for the city,” said McCall, 60, executive director of the Society for Contemporary Craft. “It helps us be involved in a conversation about art that's happening around the world.”
McCall was one of many visitors to the museum for Saturday's public opening of the 2013 Carnegie International. Museum spokesman Jonathan Gaugler estimated the number in the thousands. The event is the oldest international survey of contemporary art in North America and the second-oldest in the world after the Venice Biennale.
“It was packed,” he said. “There were waves and waves of people coming in all day, from all over the world.”
The 56th installment features 35 artists from 19 countries and includes new works, as well as reinstallation of artwork collected during past Internationals and a visual history of mid-century playground design.
McCall deemed this year's exhibit her favorite and particularly enjoyed the humor she found in British artist Sarah Lucas' “Ace in the Hole,” a sculpture consisting of tights stuffed to appear like legs wearing stockings.
“Sometimes contemporary art only involves the intellectual and lacks heart and passion,” McCall said. “I love when the head and heart come together in a piece of work.”
Andrew Carnegie founded the International in 1896 to build the museum's collection. It's held every three to five years with the last event in 2008 drawing more than 380,000 visitors from around the world.
This year's exhibition took curators Daniel Baumann, Dan Byers, and Tina Kukielski three years of traveling the globe to organize.
Museum director Lynn Zelevansky said because the International is the museum's signature event, great focus is placed on keeping each one unique.
“We really anchored it in a sense of history and sense of place,” she said of this year's exhibit. One theme that runs through the exhibit is the beauty and struggle of everyday life within many cultures.
“Disarm” by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes garnered a great deal of response from exhibit viewers. The work consists of musical instruments made from weapons confiscated from the drug war in the city of Juarez. The mechanized wind chimes, snare drum, cello and other instruments cling, clang and bellow at odd intervals.
Each International has featured work of artists who have gone on to be named among the greats, Zelevansky said. They include Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Winslow Homer.
People from Western Pennsylvania and beyond poured into the museum to get their first glimpses of the art during the public opening.
Barbara Salitrik of Hopwood in Fayette County and Mary Ann Douglass of Waynesburg were waiting in the lobby before the exhibit opened.
“I'm so very, very excited to see that imagination let loose,” said Salitrik, 70, a museum member of 10 years. “It just makes you realize people are wonderful and excited about life. When society is gone, this is how we know who people were.”
Douglass, 62, appreciates seeing artists' points of view from all over the world.
“It's nice to think about different sides of issues and feel what other people might be experiencing,” she said.
Andreea and Milu Ritivoi of Mt. Lebanon brought daughter Anouk, 6, and son Luca, 4, to see the exhibit and a piece Anouk created that the museum is displaying in an area devoted to the work of local children. Her piece — made of a shoe sole, fabric and colorful paint — is in the “Playground Project” portion of the show, dedicated to outstanding and influential playgrounds from around the world.
Andreea Ritivoi, 43, places particular importance on exposing her children to different cultures through art. She calls the International “one of the best things one can hope for in Pittsburgh.”
“It helps you think beyond your everyday experiences and makes you aware of what could be, not just what is,” she said.
The International is not confined to inside museum walls. Outside, British artist Phyllida Barlow's “TIP” sculpture of wooden poles and colorful flags reaches out toward Forbes Avenue from the museum entrance. The vibrant, wormlike Lozziwurm play sculpture rests among the trees near the main entrance.
Another goal of the International is community engagement. One such effort includes an art lending program at the Braddock Carnegie Library. On Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., guests can take a bus from the museum to the library to check out artwork just like they would a book. Work includes pieces drawn from a variety of sources, including all of the artists participating in International.
For McCall, the accessibility of art the International brings to the people of Pittsburgh is perhaps the best part.
“Art should be available for everyone,” she said.
Staff writer Andrew Conte contributed to this story. Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.