Local artist and curator Welch's show at the Downtown storefront gallery is titled A Few Objects -- On a Theme of Contradiction, but the term "objects" doesn't really do these works justice.
Contraptions, microverses or perhaps "phenomenological gadgets with cryptic narrative overtones" would be more appropriate.
Several of them are packed into the small Pittsburgh Cultural Trust venue. One is "Finding Order," a large-scale abstract painting on an old-fashioned, window-shade-style home-movie screen. It appears to have constellations marked on it, and holes punched to let through the illumination from a light source behind.
The most amusing is "Fucking Archetypes," which consists in part of a short painter's ladder, a motor, a mechanical arm that terminates in a purple dildo, and a large piece of sheet metal suspended vertically. Every few minutes at last week's gallery crawl, the seemingly inanimate device alarmed patrons by leaping to life, the motor inducing the arm to pummel the metal with the dildo, making a sound like, uh ... thunder.
(Welch is fond of such intermittent sonic eruptions: Visitors to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts might recall his room-sized library made entirely -- books, shelves and all -- out of blue foam, which was also intermittently animated, make to vibrate to an otherworldly piped-in noise.)
Other items incorporated into the "Archetypes" scenario include a yellow lifejacket, a tall plexiglass cylinder half-full of water, and a red light.
Still, my favorite work in the show was the most object-like. "A Relationship of Command" sat in the middle of the floor, consisting of a sort of earthen obelisk laying on its side, one end cupped in a fallen wheelbarrow whose wooden undercarriage bristled with 20 arrows. The title suggests an allegory of social power structures. But my first impressions was that some Olympian child has swept a dried-mud prism from its heavenly play-table, only to have it plunge nose-first into a terrestrial wheelbarrow ... at the precise moment that the blameless barrow was attacked by vindictive archers, whose feathered missiles struck just before it toppled. At long intervals, the work also emits a high-pitched hum. Inscrutable, yet fascinating.
Welch was Pittsburgh Center for the Arts' 2008 Emerging Artist of the Year. He's now a full-time curator at the PCA. His newest show as curator, a big group exhibition titled Cluster, opens there with a reception on Fri., Feb. 5.
A Few Objects runs at 709 Penn through Feb. 19.