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Art Review: Memory, art mingle in cemetery

Saturday, April 19, 2003

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

Visitors to large, historic cemeteries expect to see classically inspired memorial sculpture and mausoleums, but not the kind of artistic expression generally exhibited in urban galleries.

A dozen Pittsburgh artists are changing that expectation at Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville with an exhibition of work, "Contemporary Art Celebrating Life," which continues through Friday. The artists hope the exhibition will become an annual event.

Inspired by a similar, ongoing project at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, the artists created site-specific works that relate to the location, while remaining respectful of the environment.

For example, Terry Hritz's "Sole Remains," an isolated piece worth seeking, is a rectangle of blackened grass filled with rows of shoe soles that "pays memory" to 78 workers of the Allegheny Arsenal who died during an explosion in 1862, the largest civilian casualty of the Civil War. Carol Kumata writes "Evergreen" in artificial grass against a hillside that's rapidly greening with spring's advance, comparing and contrasting natural and man-made.

Inside the large mausoleum, Naomi Falk has placed photographs of objects she inherited from her late grandmother, effectively addressing memory and how ordinary, everyday things affect our knowledge of a person. Mary Hood creates a magical effect with patiently tied monofilament streaming down from the branches of her "Rain Tree," an environmental commentary drawn from Columbian Indian belief.

Most directly attuned to the grounds is Ruth Stanford's "Fallen Timber," a smartly conceived response to the loss of more than 500 trees that occurred last year when a macroburst storm blew through the cemetery. Some dated from the cemetery's origin in 1845, and she's marked them with their species name and dates of germination and death, paralleling the information on nearby stones that mark human existence.

Other exhibiting artists are Jon Beckley, Merritt Johnson, Elaine King, Bill Kofmehl, Joseph Mannino, Irina Nakhova and Mary Robertson.

Finding some of the works in the cemetery's 300 acres may be a challenge, but part of the experience is walking across lawns and through history. Maps are available at the entrances at 4734 Butler St. (by the administration building) and 4500 Penn Ave. (by the Penn Avenue Tower and security office). The artwork may be seen until 7 p.m. daily.

Mary Thomas can be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.

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