For three decades, 14 women dubbing themselves The Pittsburgh Group have come together to discuss art and to chart each other's creative development. Now, North Side newcomer Fein Art Gallery, which opened last June, hosts the group's anniversary exhibition. While The Pittsburgh Group: Celebrating Women in the Arts for Over 30 Years consists primarily of recent pieces, it also reveals several members' evolving style by juxtaposing older and newer works.
In each of the exhibited pieces there is a trace of rebellion -- the kind of defiant spirit that sparked the rise of the second-wave feminists of the 1970s. Though there's no evidence of the intense political sentiments that informed the writings of Germaine Greer and Rita Mae Brown, or the provocative conceptual art of Jenny Holzer, the artists clearly revel in their creative liberation. They hone modes of expression that were still widely considered the domain of men, when they began their group in the late 1970s.
The show was curated by a Pittsburgh group member, the much-admired teacher, community arts leader and former Studio Z Gallery owner Kathleen Zimbicki. Her watercolor "Random Hands," like her "Blue Nude" and "Blue Nude 1," celebrates the female mystique and -- with the tattoo-like markings on the yellow figure's wasp-waisted lower back -- vaguely recalls Man Ray's "Le Violin d'Ingres." The female figure is surrounded by a series of hands (which closely resemble feet). Each seems to make an effort to touch (and possibly subdue) the figure.
Aline Shader likewise takes women as her subject. "Eve," a graphite-on-paper work from 1981, seems an academic exploration of the female body and surrounding textures: flesh, hair, fabric and the wooly geometry of a Persian carpet. In her undated oil "The Entertainer," Shader's principal female figure stands before a series of loges in a Gautier-worthy costume. While her gaze is impassive and her stature imposing, the title reminds us that she is still pressed into the service of audience amusement.
Donna Hollen Bolmgren seemingly reappropriates Willem de Kooning's fearsome women, and reconstitutes them by way of a buttery painted impasto. While figures like "Seated Woman" are defined by dark colors, they are not the tooth-gnashing Kali figures that besieged de Kooning's canvases. Bolmgren's women are striking, enthroned and enlivened by confident brushwork.
Self-assured, almost impulsive brushstrokes also characterize the 2006 acrylic "In the Mood," by Gallery Chiz owner Ellen Chisdes Neuberg. The exuberant anarchy of lines and colors create visual vibrations that pulse with joyful intensity.
Dorothy Forman's acrylic paintings, meanwhile, throb with a decidedly more sinister visceral force. "Dark Bird," which depicts a cartoonish crow, makes its apparent screeching nearly audible. Red and purple streaks shoot from the bird's body, suggesting not only the emission of sound but also the aggressive release of its own blood or -- more disturbingly -- someone else's.
Jill Whittaker's stunning poly-filled cotton figures -- opulent crosses between Russian icons and Belle Epoch-era cloth dolls -- seem just as talismanic as Forman's painted characters. The visually arresting, fetish-sized, undated "Untitled #2" is robed in bridal-white chiffon. Its painted face, which boasts the third eye of enlightenment, is cracked, as with age, and glitters with glass beads and Swarovski crystals.
Each of the 14 women's works seem to tap into a kind of freethinking emotion that precipitated America's "redstocking" movement -- a radical '70s feminist riposte to the decorous bluestocking women's intellectual movement in 18th-century Britain. Certainly, these Pittsburgh Group works carry no overt political messages, but there is candid feminine electricity that crackles within each, even the most abstract. This force reminds the viewer of the politics of the period when the group was conceived, and when these women artistically came into their own. The Pittsburgh Group show offers viewers the exhilarating sense of the artists' continued liberated spirit and dynamic creativity.
The Pittsburgh Group: Celebrating Women in the Arts for Over 30 Years continues through Feb. 7. Fein Art Gallery, 519 E. Ohio St., North Side. 412-321-6816
- Enthroned: Donna Hollen Bolmgren's "Seated Woman"