Nearly 130 artworks appear in the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 97th Annual Exhibition, selected by juror and New York artist Polly Apfelbaum from submissions by 76 of the fine-arts group's members. Many are visually arresting works, and more than a few are conceptually provocative. But while some express a winking, tongue-in-cheek humor, there is also something significant behind all the drollery. It's the kind of appetizing substance the world could use more of.
One example is Australian-born, Ohio-educated Dietrich Wegner's "Playhouse II." The large-scale sculpture calls to visitors like a figurative beacon, primarily because it resembles a mushroom cloud. Its steel-wire skeleton is covered with the fluffy white material used to stuff dolls and dog toys; from an arched opening on one side hangs a rope ladder, dragging on the gallery floor.
Wegner's work bears a visual pun with sober implications: The ladder and title suggest that the colossal explosion of polyester filling be read as a tree. And this allusion to children's hideouts and secretive clubhouse games gives the work a knife-sharp edge in light of recent anxieties over nuclear proliferation.
Similarly, Shawn Quinlan's meticulously detailed quilt, "Sugar Coated," features Liberty Bells, jets, stars and tanker trucks that follow the arc of a harlequin-patterned half circle. In the center, Tinkerbell -- balanced on a sugar bowl -- waves her wand over two little boys bearing flags. Suggesting a before-and-after transformation, the sweet features of the boy at left have been replaced by a crown-wearing death's head on the right.
Winner of the Juror's Award, meanwhile, is Mary M. Mazziotti's work in 12 textile panels, "A Day in The Life of Death." The panels run like a newspaper comic strip, with skeletal Death as the work's antihero. He buys take-out and visits the dentist -- all while spreading destruction in coloring-book-style red embroidered outlines. In panel 10, captioned "Death Does His Taxes," one of life's certainties is forced to contemplate the other.
Passionate (if much less humorous) is Daniel Bolick's acrylic and latex work "Angry Youth." It depicts the face of a tooth-baring African-American boy in his mid-teens. He is defined by a surprising color palette of aquas, purples, oranges and brilliant white -- as if he were facing a window full of neon. Bolick creates a sense of dynamism in the work through paint splatters, which emanate from the boy's clippered skull like shaken sweat. Equally striking is the intensity of the boy's gaze: Bolick depicts a rage so fervent and condensed, it has the glitter of gemstones.
Other outstanding works include Ron Donoughe's oil on canvas "Strip Morning," which captures all the beautiful squalor of the Strip District's alleyways, warmed in spots by the orange crush-colored light of sunrise. Annie Heisey's gouache on paper "Silent Partner" is arresting in the defiant, unblinking brown-eyed gaze of its subject, a nude woman whose reflection regards us.
Ben Matthews' acrylic on canvas work, "KEY BIRD: Instrumental in stealing clean air during the Factory Era," depicts a finch with a gleaming gun-barrel beak perched over a Transcendentalist landscape blemished by smoke-spewing industry. The work revels in a subject, and a technical virtuosity, worthy of painter Thomas Cole's 19th-century Hudson River School.
In this 97th Annual exhibition -- paired with the substantial retrospective AAP: Then and Now -- Associated Artists affirms the region's continued contribution of innovative, outward-looking creations to the art world at large. Whether the subjects are abstract, regional, politically confrontational or conceptually challenging, there is a galvanizing sense, throughout the Carnegie's galleries, that Pittsburgh is home to technically and aesthetically sophisticated artists who command viewer attention, convey significant messages, and stimulate perceptual clarity.
Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 97th Annual Exhibition continues through Jan. 21. Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-3131
- Duck and cover: Dietrich Wegner's "Playhouse II."