Art review: 'Nine Solo Exhibits' at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
Nine solo exhibits showing on both floors of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside offer a variety of contemporary viewpoints.
The first one visitors will come to is an installation of collage-based drawings and sculptural assemblages by Katie Murken, titled “Fight Well Against the Future.”
These carefully constructed works on paper are created through a cut-and-paste technique that places photocopied images of architectural ruins and amorphous gold-ink drawings of automobiles among landscapes of blacktop, ethereal forest, water and outer space.
The idea is to “set the stage for the viewer to construct a new mythology about the potential loss of cultural identity in a modern world,” the artist writes in the exhibit statement.
And one look at the massive work “Share This With All Your Children and Grandchildren,” with its cars parked among monoliths, might bring to mind the Joni Mitchell lyric, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot” from “Big Yellow Taxi.”
In the next room, Joseph Lupo has taken over the gallery with his “Comic Configurations.” The work, screen prints adapted directly from “The Invincible Iron Man” comic book, Vol. 1, Issue 178, published in 1982, addresses how artists and writers communicate through comics, chiefly by eliminating the characters and leaving just the word balloons and surroundings in each image.
“Comics rely on both text and graphic images to make a storyline move along,” Lupo says. “By eliminating certain aspects of both characteristics, I can find different methods of deconstructing the entire book.”
Lupo says his intentions are to reveal the construction of comic books and to question how presentation affects the way we interpret and understand information. Thus, the “incomplete” images provide an opportunity for the viewer to engage with what is provided and to create meaning based on preconceived notions.
“New meanings emerge from this dialogue between the artwork and viewer,” he says.
On the second floor, Hisham Youssef's installation, “One Room,” is a standout. It features architectural plans enlarged from old microfilm, taped conversations on vintage reel-to-reel and a life-size skeleton of a canoe filled with wicker chairs that might be the most beautiful and visually arresting piece among all the works.
Youssef says the installation is an early iteration of what he hopes to be a long-term project based on microfilm he inherited from his father, a civil engineer with Swindell Dressler in Pittsburgh for 27 years.
“That firm no longer exists, but some project plans and notes were stored away by meticulous-minded engineers like my dad,” Youssef says.
In the '70s, Youssef's father was the project manager when the company built a sponge iron plant in Iraq. “They also built a plant in Iran at the time,” he says.
Off to one side of the gallery, large blueprints are skewered as if cold cuts on huge kabobs.
“These are the plans for those projects, along with the plans for the spare parts,” Youssef says.
Another visually arresting installation worth noting is “The Archaeology of Memory” by Vlad Basarab.
Basically a large, wooden dining table filled with kiln-fired porcelain books, each of which was partially deteriorated with water prior to firing, it is accompanied by a video showing one of the books going through that deterioration process.
Basarab believes his role as an artist is to dig through layers of history like an archaeologist.
“ ‘The Archaeology of Memory' series has been influenced by the loss of collective culture and memory,” Basarab writes in his statement. “My work is an attempt to make my audience link the present to the past through questioning traditional methods of preserving and transforming collective memory.”
The time-based work in this exhibit, presented in real time and as a time-lapse video, addresses different forms of memory loss, Basarab says.
“The action and futility of going back in time to wash the clay-covered book in order to save content that can't fully be salvaged, suggests how hard it is to regain lost knowledge.”
Then there is “Phase-Shift” by Scott Andrew, who describes himself as “half crystal, half human.”
Andrew is a multimedia artist whose immersive videos, installations, sculptures and performances evoke a childlike yearning for play. In his three-part video, we see him dressed or covered in opulent thrift-store kitsch in three “mirror, mirror, on the wall” scenarios. Andrews shows an affinity for maximalism, overstimulating viewers through an excessive selection of materials.
The work exposes the qualities of kitsch and camp as an attack of the present via the detritus of the past, and the ubiquitous nature of excess in society.
The remaining works on display, which range from a photo documentation of motherhood by Joy Christiansen-Erb to a large-scale sewing installation by Terry Boyd with Kara Skylling, are just as compelling, making for a must-see exhibition experience.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.