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Art Review: 2 artists alter view of daily life

Thursday, January 22, 2004

By Mary Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

How much attention have you given recently to the look of your phone book pages? Or to the convoluted course the water in your toiled bowl has traveled?


The exhibitions continue through March 14. The gallery is open 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free and the three floors are handicap-accessible. For information, call 412-268-3877.


Two exhibitions at the Regina Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University, may appear to have little in common. But each heightens perception of an aspect of daily life that's regularly overlooked.

Humorous overtones and a smack of subversion characterize Adam Frelin's conceptual projects, which draw attention to the sometimes not-so-obvious displacements that occur where man and nature meet.

The typefaces designed by internationally known typographer Matthew Carter don't stand up and announce themselves, but they're pervasive in our printed environment.

Carter will give a free gallery talk at 3 p.m. Sunday, and a lecture at 7 p.m. Monday in Kresge Hall in the College of Fine Arts Building, CMU, with a reception to follow at the Miller Gallery.

Frelin, a Grove City native, attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, and earned a master's degree in fine arts at the University of California, San Diego. He's an assistant professor at Webster University, St. Louis, until spring, when he'll move to Kyoto, Japan, to conduct research sponsored by the US/Japan Creative Artists Program.

The first floor of "Adam Frelin: Recent Work" introduces the 30-year old artist's outside-the-box thinking through photographs of his artful vinyl car "Window Replacements" -- colorful abstracts that temporarily seal gaps caused by accident or theft.

Jeffrey Hughes, in a 2002 New Art Examiner article, associated Frelin's expression with Andy Warhol's 1960s "Disaster" series as examples of the way artists "both explore popular reception of disaster imagery and attempt to use art to expose and reclaim disaster sites."

Video shorts documenting Frelin's often outrageous "Water Rerouting Initiatives" of 2000 to 2004, are clever and funny. In one, the artist surreptitiously, and speedily, constructs a structure out of plastic, duct tape and tubes to redistribute the flow of water among fixtures in a public rest room. In "Hijacked Water Fountain," a piece worthy of Rube Goldberg, the camera follows the convoluted route of water re-channeled from a drinking fountain through a series of walls and passageways to another destination.

At times the videos are beautiful, as when the filming moves in close and slow to follow the translucent water trickle of "Floor Fountain." But the take-home lesson is the suggestion that institutionalized thinking patterns may benefit from a detour around predictable procedures and goals.

The levity of the first floor is replaced by quietude and reflection on the second, which displays proposals for parks and a garden. Taken literally, these could easily be dismissed as an artist's figment; but read as poetic metaphor, they challenge habituated planning.

Central is Frelin's "Models for Mountain Parks," a large white floor grid with three of the open squares filled with green mounds inspired by the terrain of Peru, China or the Philippines. Altered digital photographs show them dropped among the skyscrapers of cities like Dallas and Chicago, where they'd temporarily reside. A serene "Model for a Void Garden" is based on the Roan Temple Zen Garden in Kyoto. The precise black holes that replace the traditional rocks in the raked sand ground call to mind Michael Heizer's "North, East, South, West," permanently installed at Dia: Beacon in Beacon, N.Y.

"Typographically Speaking: The Art of Matthew Carter" is an acknowledgment of the achievements of a career that has to date spanned four decades and produced more than 50 typefaces. Carter's designs are "ubiquitously present in the visual landscape of contemporary graphic design," Johanna Drucker writes in the show's catalog.

The exhibition was organized by the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery, Baltimore, and curated by Margaret Re, University of Maryland, to not only document Carter's contributions but to communicate the various aesthetic and functional considerations that go into achieving good design.

Among exhibited objects are hand-cut punches, computer-generated fonts and examples of practical applications in publications and even on muffin mix boxes. .

Wall panels detail process, such as the development of "Bell Centennial," the type you see each time you open your telephone directory.

When the Bell companies switched to high-speed cathode ray tube typesetters in the 1970s, they ran into problems with the typeface in use. . Bell commissioned a new "type family" with a "more contemporary look," which made its debut in 1978.

The new look included different letter and number "weights" (their thickness on the page) for names and addresses, attention to production values that would ensure a clean print, and reducing the number of two-line entrees by narrowing the address face.

Finally, the "laborious work of producing the final fonts began," pixel by pixel.

These very different exhibitions draw attention to the complex underpinnings of functions most of us take for granted, and, by their juxtaposition, show how the diverse aspects of culture are all interrelated.

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at or 412-263-1925.

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