Of the many exhibits planned to mark the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh centennial, one of the first to open also promises to be one of the more intriguing. Exchange, at Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Gallery, is an unusual group show featuring 40 area artists arranged in 20 pairs, with each pair comprising an established practitioner and an emerging talent.
You can glimpse the possibilities of the buddy system when Aaronel deRoy Gruber, likely Pittsburgh's most venerable practicing artist, meets twentysomething Deanna Mance. Gruber's "Steel Temple Ruins," an austere, tinted black-and-white photo of the disenfranchised mill smokestacks at Homestead's Waterfront shopping district, hangs alongside Mance's colorful, candy-striped abstract drawing of the same scene. The two also team on "Mixologists," a cheerfully macabre take on a child's toy incorporating dismembered baby dolls, featuring Gruber's Plexiglass sculpture and Mance's line work.
Some works in Exchange --chaired by Anna Marie Sninsky and co-chaired by Bob Qualters -- find artists operating less "together" than simply side-by-side, on the same theme. But it's the in-depth collaborations that really pop the most.
Dominating the gallery's main section, for instance, is Bill Zarvis and Drew Hines' "Divergence," a monumental abstract sculpture in steel and glass, its contours and proportions elegantly powerful.
Nearby, by contrast, hangs Garry Piles and Carin Mincemoyer's series of four pendant sculptures, all seemingly lighter than air. Crafted from things like wire, drinking straws and transparent plastic packaging shells (Mincemoyer's signature material), these works -- "Branches," "Diatom," "Red" and "Nest Site" -- suggest a post-nature world where even the plant life is fashioned from polycarbonate refuse.
Another inspired match-up engenders "Jellyvision Workspace," a wonderfully daft collaboration that anoints an unsuspecting end-table with Benjamin Matthews' faux-vintage poster work and Alberto Almarza's penchant for glass bulbs, tiny terrariums and antique hand tools.
Also near the gallery's big Liberty Avenue windows -- and preferably viewed by daylight -- are two works by Randie Snow and Kyle Ethan Fischer. These likewise find each artist retaining his or her identity even while the other partner expands its breadth.
In one installation, one of Fischer's mixed-media, lacy-fleshed walking wraiths wears a half-hoop-skirt of dead branches and makes an anomalously coquettish gesture, all while incorporating Snow's delicately eerie assemblage sensibilities (a bird's nest tucked inside the figure's battered ribcage). Nearby, a small gilt table bears a box housing a ruined wooden canary -- a faded idol worshipped by two tiny golden chickens and a golden goose. Beneath the table are the remnants of a second table, (barely) bound together by a red thread that leads back to the canary's roost.
Snow and Fischer's other installation reiterates the bird-and-egg theme, with a second human figure kneeling while a yellow silk scarf spills from a fissure in the back of its skull, and a tiny egg rests upon the fabric's other end.
Meanwhile, don't miss Dorothy Forman and Mandy Chesney's four-part "Blue Girl" series. These dark, chaotic-seeming works are outsider-art-style paintings on paper, with mixed-media elements. They tell a story about a girl, expressed as a personal mythology that's a sort of waking dream.
Exchange continues through Sat., April 17. 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-471-6070