From PNC Park, one can see a billboard-sized sign atop a Downtown building. This sign is illuminated with a triangular pattern. What the heck is it? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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From PNC Park, one can see a billboard-sized sign atop a Downtown building. This sign is illuminated with a triangular pattern. What the heck is it?

Question submitted by: Dave Horstmann

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Oscar Wilde once said that all art is useless. If so, the Pirates may have raised baseball to an art form. So what better place could there be for a large public artwork than just across the river from where they play?

 

The "billboard" you've seen was a collaboration between artist Robert Wilson and Richard Gluckman, an architect who designed the interior for The Andy Warhol Museum. Together, they devised the work's concept and title -- "Light Panel." (Is it any wonder it took two guys to think of that stirring name?) The work is a 40-by-20-foot panel of LEDs, and works something like the Jumbotron you glance at to watch Pirate replays.

 

The triangle shape obviously refers to Downtown Pittsburgh's famously triangular form, though Wilson and Gluckman's version is not golden but white. It creeps across a blue-gray background, morphing from one position to the other, so slowly that you can't see it happen until you look away. It's a lot like a game of baseball, in other words.

 

Wilson and Gluckman hit upon the idea of using light-based sculptures during a series of brainstorming sessions sponsored by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust back in 1996. The Trust, which has presided over the arts-related development taking place along Penn and Liberty avenues, bandied about using lighting schemes to illuminate Downtown building facades, rooftops, even alleyways. There were frequent allusions to how Pittsburgh could become, like Paris, a "City of Lights" (though judging from recent headlines no one is going to be building Tom Murphy an Arc de Triomphe any time soon). As the Trust put it in a promotional tract titled (somewhat immodestly) Curating the District: How the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is transforming the quality of urban life, the hope was that light could be used "to enhance what is there or to mask what is temporary."

 

If the idea was to mask portions of the Downtown cityscape, a more cost-effective solution might just have been to shine the light directly into visitors' eyes. As it was, "Light Panel" is the second project Wilson and Gluckman devised for Downtown. The first, 1999's "Light Wall," featured a sequence of horizontal bars of light scanning down the side of a building across the street from the Benedum, another Cultural District project. Imagine the world's largest and slowest UPC scanner and you get an idea.

 

In Curating the District, the Trust notes that "Light Panel" has a much higher profile. Built atop the old Horne's department store, "It is positioned to be seen from ... PNC Park and from the air, visually linking arts, sports, and tourism," the Trust asserts. If that sounds ambitious, consider that the artists themselves claim to be linking not just elements of Pittsburgh's latest revitalization, but the very fabric of the universe itself. The Trust's promotional gloss quotes Wilson saying, "Everything begins with light," and that "Without light, there's no space. And space can't exist without time: they are part of one thing."

 

Does that clear things up? Good. You're ready for the advanced course: Without space, there'd be no Jason Kendall, and without Jason Kendall there'd be no salary problems for the Pirates. Without salary problems, there'd be a chance for the team to make the playoffs someday ... so when you watch Wilson and Gluckman's sculpture, what you're really seeing is geometric proof of why the Pirates can't break .500. And in recent years, at least, watching the sculpture has proven less painful than watching the Pirates prove that themselves. And really, isn't that the purpose of art? To give a form to suffering and, in the process, to master pain itself?

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