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Of Two Minds

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The Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University, in Morgantown, is a broad, low-rise cylinder whose sober white exterior does not look at all like Paul Rosenblatt of Springboard Design. Yet the institutional structure offers a precise view into this architect's mind. He did not design the building, though. Rather, two galleries within it are showing Omnivorous: The Art and Architecture of Paul Rosenblatt and SPRINGBOARD.

 

 

The specific analogy with Rosenblatt's brain (though Springboard architecture is

most often produced in collaboration with Petra Fallaux and Bill Szustak) comes from the division of Rosenblatt's work into two separate but related categories. The architectural projects, built works displayed in the Laura Mesaros Gallery, are presented as being rigorous, methodical and meticulous. Conversely, the painted, sculpted and assembled works in the Paul Mesaros Gallery across the lobby come across as brash, impetuous and uninhibited.

 

Stand near the building entry facing outward, and the characteristics of the

gallery shows align nicely with the physical positions as well as the tendencies of the left and right brain. And like Rosenblatt's mind, both sides are filled with ideas. To what degree do they connect or conflict?

 

The Laura Mesaros Gallery has representations of several different Springboard

Projects, including: the Maridon Museum in Butler; an exhibition pavilion for Duquesne Light at the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show; the Water exhibit at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum; and also a café. These are shown in a continuous row of small photographs on the gallery walls, as well as in a printed computer rendering of each work. Also, each project is represented by a separate Plexiglas sculpture, like a window five panes thick, in which abstractions of the building floor plans have been etched. Spot lighting makes them glow -- each project is a gem. Though the photographs leaven this gallery by showing people, including happy kids at the Children's Museum, the sense of the architecture show is hermetic. The buildings are experiments in form, expressive uses of material, and plays on illumination course throughout. It is the presentation that is a bit buttoned down.

 

By contrast, across the hall, an engaging artistic mayhem breaks loose, as if pent-up energy was finally released, which is largely the case. Though Rosenblatt has a degree in art and has done a few well-received collaborative projects with artists in recent times, he said in a recent interview, "For about fifteen years I didn't do much art at all. I went to museums, but I didn't practice." But then WVU professors Christina Olson and Paul Krainak, the latter a painter who has exhibited at Springboard's combined studio and gallery, encouraged Rosenblatt to rekindle his own artistic production to match the interdisciplinary sensibilities that he had long discussed.

 

In a few months of work, he created enough pieces to fill a small gallery with energetic, wry and substantive work. The result is as if an aesthetic reverse tornado went through the art stores and thrift shops of Pittsburgh, maybe Home Depot as well, sucking up random scraps of paint, consumer goods and building materials and assembling them with the cultivated surreal juxtapositions that only a witty art historian could muster. Chairs grow branches. Carpets, frames, paint and radios attack the picture plane with

similar abandon.

 

Gallery curator Bob Bridges describes both the work and the process excitedly. "These pieces make so many different artistic references," he says, citing similarities to pieces by Richard Tuttle. They are especially reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg's combines, comparing well to the masterfully breezy associative visual poetry of those works. Rosenblatt himself would rather listen to reactions than name influences, though he does describe Marcel Duchamp as a hero. Or anti-hero.

 

But the conventions of art that Duchamp aimed mostly to undermine, Rosenblatt sees, nearly a century later, as achieving reinvigoration through synthesis. "I am really interested in crossing the boundaries between art and architecture and creating new ways of working that are dissolving those distinctions." So the architecture makes formal and material experiments, and the art engages its surroundings with a vocabulary of sometimes-raw materials.

 

The two-shows-in-one premise of this exhibition sets up a provocative counterpoint and implicitly exhorts clients to demand the most adventurous building designs possible. But as Rosenblatt's designs and the almost-contiguous Mesaros galleries show, adventurous pursuits in architecture and in art are not as far apart as some may think.

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