The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's 102nd Annual Exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art is a mixture of styles, mediums and subject matter. Like most shows of this type, it has no main organizing principle, but is installed so as to enhance aesthetic balances among the 68 works by 46 artists.
Juried by David Norr, chief curator at MOCA Cleveland, this survey presents the work of members of AAP, an organization dedicated to enhancing the region's cultural vitality through exhibitions and community-based programs. Founded in 1910, it is the largest visual-arts organization in the Pittsburgh region and claims to be one of "the most esteemed artist-member organizations in the country." The simple fact of its longevity is a testament to the devotion, and the inventiveness, of area artists.
In his juror's statement, Norr writes: "The experience of getting to know a scene ... has real personal rewards." He explains that he is "taken with the spirit of change on the streets of Pittsburgh" and hopes his "selection of artworks suggests the region to be a place where new forms and ideas are not only welcome but sought out and celebrated."
While sculpture and ceramics are included in the exhibition, the majority of works are two-dimensional paintings, drawings, prints and photography. However, some of these are mixed media and collage that spill over into three dimensions. One example is Ron Copeland's "Revival," a large and exuberant mash-up of lettering and wallpaper that resembles the 1990s work of Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen, but with a Rust Belt rather than a West Coast vibe. (Notably, another work of Copeland's, "Sunday Night Blues," is included in a concurrent AAP exhibition called 30:2, at the Pittsburgh Center For the Arts.)
Another piece that breaks free from the two-dimensional plane is Erika Osborne's "Homage to Converse Basin," a charcoal drawing of a knotted tree root, rendered in realistic detail on a row of grape stakes that lean up against the wall.
Whereas Osborne is interested in the way humans relate to the natural environment, several artists in the exhibition consider the built environment. Kara Skylling's urban landscapes echo the repetitive pattern that Osborne elicits from processed wood. In "Street View V" and "Street View VI," Skylling layers tiny slats of wood onto the sides of homes that sit side by side in her minimalist watercolor paintings, each differentiated by color and pattern. As a counterpoint, Seth Clark depicts homes that are neither orderly nor pristine. Instead, they are tragic heaps of decay, neglect or disaster. His densely layered portraits in "Pile VI" and "Collapse XII" project a mixture of pathos, abjection, obstinacy and rage.
Aspects of architecture also figure prominently in the work of Mark Franchino, whose spare pencil drawings imagine humble objects, like Dumpsters and pallets, as fanciful and elegant structures. Like Skylling's, his images are minimalist and rely on white space to accentuate fine details.
Minimalism is also a technique employed by Nancy Kountz in her grid of blue/gray paintings, which interpret the decorative details of a mosque. Her use of basic geometric shapes is echoed in other abstract works throughout the exhibition.
William D. Wade's "Darkness Creeps In" is a pigment print of squares and rectangles that is a study of blacks and grays. Jack Weiss' "Deconstruction #1" and "Deconstruction #2" are paintings that use drafting notations and bright colors to underscore basic shapes on a flat plane. Deborah Hosking's "Urban Albers" is a group of photographs of found square shapes on brick, paint and wood. The works pay tribute to influential German-born abstract painter Josef Albers, using a technique that recalls New York School abstract photographer Aaron Siskind.
Another piece that explores geometry is George Roland's computer animation "Quadpainter," in which squares morph into new shapes and colors. The proximity of this piece to prints by Lenore Thomas and sculptures by Marjorie F. Shipe make for an interesting examination of the visual language of abstraction.
While the majority of works in the AAP exhibition are abstract, numerous other styles, materials and techniques are represented. Don't miss Madelyn Roehrig's video "Figments: Andy's Tombstone, edition II," a compilation of images of Warhol's gravesite (located in Bethel Park) throughout the seasons. Not only is it delightful to watch, but also it encapsulates a number of important themes, one of which is the essence of a location.
Regional shows are often a mixed bag. But as the idea of the local becomes increasingly important in a globalized economy, such exhibitions demonstrate the vital role arts organizations play in keeping art scenes robust and productive.