'Associated Artists' exhibit spotlights variety in Western Pa.
It may be the Westmoreland Museum of American Art's temporary exhibition space while the main facility undergoes renovation and expansion, but Westmoreland @rt 30 is an apropos place for the “Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 103rd annual Exhibition.”
That's obvious when entering the second-floor galleries that house the exhibit where the sleek, white, partitioned walls of the former Stickley-Audi Furniture building serve as the perfect backdrop for contemporary art.
Also a perfect fit — the exhibit was juried by Westmoreland Museum curator Barbara Jones.
“As the curator at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art for nearly 19 years, I thought that my familiarity with the artists of this region might limit my ability to be objective,” Jones says.
It didn't, because, as Jones found out, there were many new names and fresh visions among the 341 artworks submitted by 181 artists. Jones selected 78 works to display by 66 artists from throughout the region.
“A lot of new artists submitted, and a lot of artists who knew that I would know their work did different work, which surprised me,” Jones says.
The result is a varied, but lively, exhibit with a multitude of paintings, sculpture, video works, installation pieces, photographs, mixed-media works and drawings on display.
They range in size and complexity from “Spindelman,” a life-size human figure made of dozens of chair spindles by Michael Long of Duncansville, to Stephen Pajewski's massive photograph “Watson Street,” which depicts colorful doorways in a back-street alley in the Bluff area of Pittsburgh in brilliant color and detail.
Abstract painting and photography are both strongly represented.
“I gravitated to large vibrant paintings that conveyed to me a joyous expressiveness,” Jones says. “Experimental work in photography stood out as a way to rethink the traditional display, creating unusual results.”
Of all the photographs on display, the most unusual by far is “Spectator 0512” by April Friges of Squirrel Hill.
A one-of-a-kind darkroom photograph (gelatin silver print), it is presented as a crumpled mass pinned to one wall. The image itself is abstract, comprising black, white and gray shapes.
“It's not digital, and it is not made from a camera,” Friges says. “It can never be reproduced the way it is originally printed. It is as traditional as photography can get — it's called a photogram, one of the earliest processes that utilizes only light and photosensitive paper in a darkroom.
“The primary idea behind the work is that when the photograph comes off the wall, it is flattened for transportation or storage, and when it goes into its next showing at a gallery or museum, it is re-sculpted, meaning that the work will never be viewed again in the precise way it is shown at the Westmoreland Museum,” Friges says.
She is quick to point out that the image in the free catalog that accompanies the exhibit looks different from what visitors will see on the wall, because, “I sculpt the photograph on-site myself.”
“Submitting the work for exhibition is tough because the curators don't know exactly what they will get,” she says.
There are precious few drawings on display, but, among them, “Birds of the World” by Kathleen Kase Burk of Ebensburg is a real standout. It's a traditional pencil-on-paper rendering of 20 different bird-shaped tchotchkes, from eggcups to planters.
“I think of it as art-history text getting crossed up with your field guide to birds,” says the 30-plus-year member of Associated Artists. “The figurines came from thrift shops and antique malls, which are a common source for the still-life objects in my drawings. Some of the birds are elegant or silly or kitschy, and a few have personal meaning, like the egg cup and the peace crane.”
Several works in collage are on display, including two Cubist-inspired “psychedelic plant paintings” incorporating elements of collaged paper by Terry Shutko, also of Squirrel Hill. Shutko says that after working the Cubist vein for so long, “I'm always trying to find some way to make it fresh.
“The plant paintings in the AAP show allowed me to bring in some aspects of the art movements that were around when I was first painting, specifically the psychedelic art of the mid-60s,” he says.
“Those first exposures to the drug visions of LSD as seen in the album covers of some of my favorite groups, the music posters coming out of San Francisco, the work of various underground comic artists, and the paintings of Isaac Abrams and Ernst Fuchs left a strong impression on my young psyche,” Shutko says. “So, here I am all these years later, working that energy into the Cubist format that has served me so well.”
Also inspired by the 1960s, the red, white and blue abstract painting “Surrender” by C. Chisholm Cohen represents her involvement in the era's antiwar movement.
Back then, Cohen, also of Squirrel Hill, says, “I had several boutiques, and we protested. And I actually was arrested for flag desecration for selling window decals that had stars and stripes and a peace symbol. I was acquitted a year later. … ‘Surrender' had me feeling despair that, after so many years, we are still at war.”
A writer-turned-artist, Cohen says that after many years of painting, she finally “got to this point where I felt that I painted with my emotions, and I finally found my voice.”
Cohen was not a member of Associated Artists when she entered her work to be judged for this year's annual exhibit, which is always open to nonmembers. Those juried into the show are granted membership.
“With a lot of encouragement from many people, I felt that I was ready,” she says. “The opportunities of being an AAP member ... validates my work and exposes my work to a larger audience.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.