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Associated Artists centennial exhibit shines light on regional talent

| Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010

The much-anticipated Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's 100th Annual Exhibition, on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art, is one of the best of the group's annual exhibits in recent history.

Founded by a loose-knit group of artists in 1910 to foster a love of the fine arts, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh still is an artist-run membership organization. In 1911, following its first exhibit in the lobby of the Grand Opera House, Associated Artists began to show annually at the Carnegie.

Each year, the organization invites artists living within 150 miles of the city to submit work for this survey exhibit. This year was no different in that regard, but the exhibit does showcase the best art being made in the region at the moment.

It was juried by Donald Miller, an independent art critic from Naples, Fla., and Al Miner, an artist and curatorial assistant at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. For this exhibit, they chose 98 works by 86 artists from 628 entries.

Like the annual exhibits of the past, this show pleases the eye and engages the mind and, perhaps even more importantly, is of the quality that locals have come to expect from this venerable arts organization, which, over the years, has boasted prominent members such as Malcolm Parcell, Balcomb Greene, Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein.

On the eve of the opening of the exhibit, Pearlstein presented the Philip Pearlstein Centennial Award to Judith Ruszkowski. Chosen by Pearlstein, the digital photograph "Euro Graffiti No. 2" showcases Ruszkowski's observant eye. It captures the steps leading to an urban overpass covered in colorful graffiti.

Ruszkowski was one of 13 award winners. Others included:

• Sculptor Richard Claraval, whose figurative "Faun" piece literally leaps off the wall, garnering him the Shoen Bernstein Family Award.

• Another wall-based sculptural work by glass artist Kathleen Mulcahy was awarded the Mendelson Exhibit Award.

• And Lori Hepner garnered the Carnegie Purchase Prize for her two unusually titled, abstract digital pigment prints, "@ranjit,11.25am Dec 2nd from the web (x2)."

Fine pieces all, but more exquisite works abound, and in a variety of media to satisfy all tastes.

If it's paintings you prefer, there are many fine examples, ranging from the hyper-realistic, such as David Stanger's portrait pair titled "On the Concept of History, Theodor Adorno and Hanna Arendt," to the semi-abstract, as in Tom Ferraro's large-scale piece "The Protectors."

The former, Stanger says, is from an ongoing body of work titled "Diaspora Portraits," which explores the identities of post-World War II Jewish artists, writers and musicians whose work has inspired him. "My attempt with these works is to consider individuals not simply as public figures but to illuminate known events in their lives that shaped their worldviews," Stanger says. There is an intimacy to the scale of the works that welcomes viewers to look closely and effectively "enlarge" an image that once appeared small.

The latter, "The Protectors" by Ferraro, is quite a bit more emotionally jarring. It is a painting of several images of a barking dog that is so pulsing, you almost can hear the bark.

"In this painting, I used multiple images of my dog as he plays in the role of my protector," Ferraro says. "I tried to amplify his aggressive instincts by positioning his stance in frontal poses, each confronting the viewer and drawing them into the blue and yellow landscape that is his world."

As usually is the case, the medium of photography is well represented, and Scott Roller's "Bird" is one of the best among them. Featuring a landlocked view of a blank highway sign, it is one piece of a larger body of work that was taken while tracing the original Freedom Riders civil rights bus rides throughout the south in the spring.

" 'Bird' was taken outside Baton Rouge, La., in April 2010," Roller says. "My feeling of the shot changed while taking the photograph: I was initially attracted to both the grandness and emptiness of the sign; the bird landing for a few seconds added a bit of hope and restfulness. That extra layer of emotion is what makes the shot for me."

As socio-political in intent as that piece is, so, too, is Penny Mateer's quilt "What's Going On?" Mateer says her piece is about the immigration question and action taken in Arizona.

"My initial reaction to the news was remembering the Statue of Liberty inscription, 'Give me your tired your poor your huddled masses, etc.' What are we doing as a country of immigrants to confront the complex problems of border crossing today?" she says.

Because quilts often are a symbol of home and considered American, Mateer chose a traditional quilt pattern, the Dresdan Plate, hoping to elicit a reaction from viewers. It is a quilt pattern her grandmother, and many others, have used.

Additionally, she says, traditional quilts are framed with borders so she used a stop sign to reference the crossing.

"The centers of the plates — police cars and do-not-enter signs — are a nod to the system used to implement the law," Mateer says. "The background of the blocks, both the states and the Pledge of Allegiance, is my reminder that this complicated question is a federal issue. Finally, I am captivated by what can be done with the patterning of stars and stripes using commercial fabrics."

Of course, there are more works to investigate, more than possibly could be covered here, which makes this exhibit all the more worth seeing.

Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 100th Annual Exhibition

When: Through Sept. 19. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; Thursdays until 8 p.m.; noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $15; $12 for senior citizens; $11 for children and students; free for museum members and children under 3

Where: Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Details: 412-622-3131 or

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