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Art Reviews: Installation dissects elements of drawing

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

It's a tribute to her talent that Barbara Bernstein -- whose "An Undisclosed Location" is at the Brew House Space 101 -- has received so much recognition since she arrived in Pittsburgh in 1999.

She was screened into the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, juried into their 2000 and 2001 Annuals at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and chosen to receive the Buncher Foundation Award in 2000. Bernstein produced an admirable body of work for last year's "Not a Theme Show" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and was invited to participate in this year's "Hour Drawings" exhibition at Allegheny College.

Barbara Bernstein's installation "An Undisclosed Location" takes drawing off the wall at the Brew House Space 101. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

An adjunct assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, she's enticed high-profile individuals, such as director Peter Sellars and video/performance artist Peter Rose, to address her classes and opened those events to the public.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (B.F.A.) and University of New Mexico (M.A. and M.F.A.), Bernstein came here from California State University at Fresno, where she was an assistant professor.

Her abstracted motion-filled drawings -- often large scale or comprising multiples -- tend to a monochromatic palette and seem to have been constructed with a delicate insistence. There is a quiet intensity about her markings, which simultaneously lie atop the paper and consume it, entrancing the receptive viewer and pulling ("drawing") him in to the works' layers.

Now she's trying something new, while retaining some of these qualities.


The exhibitions are at 2100 Mary St., South Side, through May 25. Gallery hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.


"Undisclosed" is an installation that is most blatantly about the deconstruction of drawing. Lines mutiny against a singular plane and cross into three-dimensional space. Fat black hoses, white cord and, somewhat heartbreakingly, her own drawings -- in charcoal, ink, powdered graphite, gesso, encaustic and "tons of oil stick," that have been sliced into 12- to 18-foot-long strips -- tumble and undulate into configurations that are only illusory on paper.

One may imagine the artist at work, pushing further into the depths of her surfaces as they become more complex and, here -- somewhat like Alice dropping into the White Rabbit's hole -- penetrating the boundary to actually enter the piece.

"This is still line -- it's just concretized," the artist says.

But the exercise reaches beyond the formal.

Bernstein is concerned with many issues, including, for instance, that of accessibility and inaccessibility. The work is open -- but there's nowhere to enter. However, visual access is egalitarian: A window is cut at a level that visitors in wheelchairs may easily look into, and ample space is left around the work for navigation.

The viewer must circumvent the piece to see it fully. "You get glimpses, but you don't know what's really going on. I don't think we ever know what's going on," Bernstein says. "Though it sounds trite to say, Sept. 11 really did affect me. Part of that was the unexpectedness, and that's in this piece also."

While it's understood that this work is exploratory, it contains the germ of several exciting projects, and can only expand the direction of her already special two dimensional expression.

Also showing is Thomas Roese's "Urban & Rural," bright paintings and detailed drawings that address architecture from sometimes unusual perspectives, and his "Scar Series," horizontal slices of highway that comment on the quick passes through space that make the experience anonymous.

Concept Art Gallery

Concept Art Gallery has joined the local infatuation with studio art glass inspired by "Contemporary Directions: Glass From the Maxine and William Block Collection," currently at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the recent opening of the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

Two of the artists on view, Dante Marioni and Richard Marquis, have works in the Carnegie exhibition.


"Glass" remains through July 7 at 1031 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square. A fine and varied exhibition of "Master Prints" remains up through May 25. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday and until 8 p.m. Thursday. For information, call 412-242-9200.


Marioni's technically stunning, slenderized urns and other vessels in bright, solid, commandeering colors are familiar by now to local viewers. While he's taken liberties with the classic forms, those were generally modifications. A "Ten-Handled Vase," with nearly fluid, curving handles cascading down opposite sides of a thickly yellow center, is a new direction and one that will take some getting used to, but such combined shapes do grow on one in return visits.

Less known here -- although featured at Concept not long ago -- is Marquis, an exceptional artist and master of murrine technique, who melds sculpture and painting in glass works that have visual and intellectual appeal. Two of his "Teapot Trophy" series -- like that at the Carnegie -- are especially appealing. Whimsical and wise, they poke fun while retaining high craft values in their stunning components, such as extraordinary zanfirico handles.

Wittily, Marquis combines ephemera he's collected with snippets of his own zanfirico or murrine to make intriguing "sample boxes," which are a little reminiscent of insect collections or what a salesman might pull out to illustrate his wares.

Also exhibiting are Pittsburgh artist Steven Eisenhauer, whose optical crystal sculptures derive beauty from their purity, and John de Wit, of Washington state, whose rich, colorful organic forms resemble abstract paintings but have all the tactility and immediacy of glass.

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