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Center for the Arts finds talent 'Inside+Out' Pittsburgh

| Sunday, June 4, 2006

At the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, two large group exhibitions display the positive benefits of local visual art organizations opening their exhibition opportunities to the art world at large.

That's evident immediately with "Inside+Out/Big&Small," an exhibition presented by the Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors, located outside the center and in four galleries on the first floor.

Juried by Jeff Nathanson, executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton, N.J., the exhibition contains 61 works by 45 artists that together offer a wide variety of three-dimensional explorations.

Most of the artists are from Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, but some are from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.

From Greensboro, N.C., artist Ruby Westcoat has contributed her Plaster-of-Paris piece de resistance, "The Last Supper." A 7-foot table filled with a plethora of forms representing every human extravagance or decadent indulgence from shrimp cocktail to cruise ship, it more than lives up to its title. The work is a sight to behold, considering the entire thing -- including all of the nearly two dozen objects that top it -- is made of supported plaster.

Closer to home, Pittsburgh artist Sarika Malik Goulatia adds some spice to this dinner party in the form of her two-part piece "Amorphous Humanorphous." Basically two life-size figures made of ceramic -- one taking human form, the other abstract -- they are covered respectfully with red chili powder and turmeric that in both cases spills onto the floor surrounding the base of each.

Although there is a multitude of mixed-media works on display worthy of note, such as Pittsburgh artists Paula Weiner's politically charged pieces or James Shipman's humorous concoctions made of cast-off antiques, if anything, it is the works in ceramics that stand out the most in this show. That is particularly because of the remarkable ability of each artist working in that medium to transcend it.

Among the standouts is Latrobe artist Chris Graber, who displays several "Contemporary Still-Lifes," as he calls them, that cull together various traditional ceramic vessel forms into box-like, surreal constructions -- think dripping bowls in similar vein to Salvador Dali's dripping clocks. Then there is Ken Vavrek of Hilltown, near Philadelphia, who presents two amazing abstract ceramic wall sculptures that defy compositional logic, not to mention use of glazes, pitting unusual shapes and surface treatments together to create something really dazzling.

Upstairs in the three largest galleries on the third floor, "Migrations of the African Diaspora," an exhibition of mixed-media works presented by Women of Visions, offers varied commentary on several migratory periods in black history. The exhibition ranges from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the recent exodus of blacks from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

All told, the 42 works by 27 artists on view in this exhibition are just as compelling as those in the first, making for a delightfully different but equally engaging experience.

As in the former, most of the artists in this exhibition are from Pennsylvania, but some are from as far away as Chicago and Georgia.

Chicago artist Joyce Owens is one of those artists. Her installation, "Out of the Box," a collection of a dozen quirky black-and-white portraits on various-sized boxes, is an unusual but welcome addition, presenting properly posed, turn-of-the-century subjects painted in period dress that comments on that time.

Also, like the former exhibition, there are some well-executed ceramic sculptures, but surprisingly, all are by Virginia-based ceramic artist Lydia Thompson, who served as juror for this particular exhibition. Her piece "Cotton Bones," which features ceramic cotton balls on a small push cart, as well as "Sweet Coals," which in similar fashion hold ceramic sweet potatoes, bring equal amounts levity and seriousness to historical truths.

As to be expected, there are a number of quilt and fiber works included. Some of them are real attention grabbers, such as Vanessa German's installation "In Transit," which is comprised of three pairs of jewel- and bead-encrusted shoes that hang in one corner, and Mayota Hill's piece, "Trailblazer," which is a tour de force of texture in the form of Kuba cloth, raffia, cowrie shells and beads composed on canvas.

Just as notable as these works are for their complicated textures, it's equably notable that both artists responsible for such fine works are from Pittsburgh. So, too, is Tenanche R. Golden, who presents, without a doubt, the most timely and contemporarily responsive work in the show.

Utilizing facts, figures and simulated flotsam to represent the New Orleans disaster that resulted from Hurricane Katrina, her remarkably well-researched installation piece "Cane Wash" takes up the entire end of one gallery. In it, evergreen twigs, clothes, furniture and other bits and pieces familiar with domestic life are strewn about.

On the walls, one can find a variety of statistical information, such as the numbers of people who have moved to different states as a result of the disaster, as well as quotes culled form the daily papers. Quotes such as "This is the biggest resettlement in American History" largely sum up the artist's intent: to showcase the result of the tragedy, which by no means should be forgotten.

Additional Information:

The exhibits

'Inside+Out/Big&Small': A national, juried exhibition of sculpture presented by Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors

'Migrations of the African Diaspora': A national, juried exhibition of mixed-media works presented by Women of Visions Inc.

When: Both exhibits run through Aug. 20. Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $5

Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-361-0873 or www.pittsburgharts.org

Gallery talk

What: Several exhibiting artists will be present to discuss their personal experiences, visual processes and sources of inspiration regarding their artwork in 'Migrations of the African Diaspora.'

When and where: 2 p.m. June 17 on the gallery's second floor.

Admission: Free with gallery admission

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