By: Max Blechman | The Duquesne Duke
Organized by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the quarterly Gallery Crawl in the Downtown Cultural District has become a crucial part of efforts to transform the city from rust-belt steel-town to a vibrant, thriving community. With 25 locations that displayed paintings and exhibits along Liberty and Penn Avenues, there was plenty to see and experience.
The effort put forth by the Cultural Trust is not in vain, as the success of the event has grown with each year, helping to revitalize and sustain the arts in the greater Pittsburgh area. Friday’s Gallery Crawl continued this trend and offered a wide variety of art and activities to enjoy.
At the bustling Wood Street Galleries, the installations were from mostly Scandinavian artists with the collection titled Absence of Self. The interactive Seeing with Eyes Closed (2011) seemed to garner plenty of attention, both positive and negative, but the highlight was the video presentation of Mirjana Vodopija’s Possibility, Will, Decision (2013), which featured three simultaneous projections of videos of snowy fields and the artist’s interaction with them, demonstrating the path from indecision to the courageous confrontation of life.
Some smaller installations surprised attendees, such as the strength of the single artist collections at the 707 and 709 Penn Avenue Galleries. At 707, artist Danny Bracken premiered his first solo collection, using digital and interactive mediums to examine the effects of technology on place and time. The installation felt fresh and the many attendees seemed to enjoy the unique pieces. At 709, Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer used vivid colors in the abstract portrayal of the journey of an immigrant. Shapes and images emerged from the art in subtle ways, allowing the viewer to experience the joy of discovery while viewing the vibrant pieces.
Another surprise for those willing to brave the cold was the collection of installations on Tito Way. Mary Mazzioti’s Memento Mori used four billboards along the wall of the alley to brilliantly and humorously deal with death and the unpredictability of life. Additionally, the Cell Phone Disco installed by InformationLab was a fascinating blend of art, architecture and technology. When viewers made or received cell phone calls, the huge electromagnetic LED lights flashed and danced with the cellular signal. Though cold, these beautiful and thought-provoking installations were worth the time spent outdoors.
Some collections, however, fell short. At Space, the Obsession collection curated by Tom Sarver felt crass and uninspired. Nathan Margoni’s Digestive System disgustingly showed the artist’s interpretation of, obviously, a digestive system, beginning with a grotesque mouth and ending with a defecating rectum. His other sculpture, Run for Your Life, which depicted a gigantic foot, ultimately felt cartoonish rather than shocking. Many of the other pieces also felt uninspired.
Mary Ivan Martin’s Tree Stand was a particularly bewildering video installation, depicting the artist on all fours with a pine tree erected on her spine. However, the collection did have some strong individual pieces, such as Martin’s Face Faucet and Laurie Trok’s A Cruel Country Where I Am No Longer Afraid, which helped make Space not feel like such a waste of its namesake.
Local artists also received their due, with the Trust Arts Education Center dedicating a whole floor to local artists. Some were brilliant, some less so, but it is amazing to see such a vibrant artistic community arising in Pittsburgh and the pride with which the city presents it. Youth art was also presented at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) and Urban Pathways, which showed exclusively the works of high school students, demonstrating the strength of art education in the city. Pittsburgh continues to grow into a hotbed for the arts and this was on display during the Gallery Crawl.
Elsewhere, live performances of musicians, comedians and DJs took place, at such spaces as the Arcade Comedy Theater, Future Tenant and Tonic. The variety of music and performances meant that even parents with children could find something to enjoy. Elsewhere, yoga classes, art sales and dance classes gave a respite from the visual stimuli of the night.
Be sure to look out for the other quarterly Gallery Crawls as they are not to be missed.