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Best of Art 2000

Friday, December 29, 2000

By Mary Thomas

While the visual arts scene wasn't as grandiose in 2000 as it had been the previous year -- partly due to major fall-launched events like the Carnegie International and a large Asian artist exhibition at the Mattress Factory that were winding down well into the new year -- there was significant activity on a quieter scale to indicate a progressively developing local community of artists and patrons.

Exhibitors challenged audiences with subjects and forms that broadened the viewing experience. For example, in alternative spaces like the Brew House Space 101, or in the highly regarded Pittsburgh Biennial, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, regional artists were given freedom that encouraged exploration of new materials and presentations.

Executive director Jeanne Pearlman's 11th, and last, Three Rivers Arts Festival, exhibited the self-photographed, lymphoma-invaded body of artist Hannah Wilke and a section of Detroit artist Tyree Guyton's joyous, if controversial, "Heidelberg Project."

The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, at Carnegie Mellon University, held the first survey of its projects at the new Regina Gouger Miller Gallery on campus, revealing a brave new world of art thinking. The Frick Art & Historical Center hosted its first artist-in-residence, which resulted in the coy, layered exhibition "Clayton Days. Picture Stories by Vik Muniz."

Artists are taking the initiative to locate unusual spaces in which to show their works, and sometimes they join with other disciplines for large, single-day celebratory events such as this year's third "Art All Night" in Lawrenceville. Recently the "Young Artists of Pittsburgh" held edgy exhibitions in underused sites on the North Side and in Friendship, and a fine, lovely show of historic and contemporary African-American quilts, curated by Pittsburgh artist Cathleen Richardson Bailey, was exhibited at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh gallery.

The Associated Artists itself completed a major building renovation in time to open an inviting new first-floor members' retail shop to Christmas shoppers. The first floor also has exhibition space, expanding an important function of that organization, and offices at the back. The lower level and the third floor were also finished, the former to be used for education programs, and the latter to generate rental income.

Relatively near and worthy of a drive is The Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, which has added a three-story, $4.25 million wing, the Beecher Center for Art & Technology, to exhibit Internet and electronic art, and to provide lab space for students and artists to develop it in.

Interest in glass (once a major regional industry) continues to grow, and three months ago plans for the Pittsburgh Glass Center, a major teaching and studio space to be located in Friendship, were made public. Concept and Wood Street galleries held exhibitions that addressed the Italian influence in contemporary glass, and organized an informative panel to complement them. The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, in Greensburg, showed a handsome, large collection of historic glass.

Performance art continues to be enacted and well attended, and was given a boost by the Off the Walls series at The Andy Warhol Museum, which began in the fall and continues through May, with the next event Jan. 27.

The 10 best exhibitions of the year show the eclectic range of choice that we've become accustomed to, a variety and quality that is itself a reflection on the committed staffs, funding agencies and audiences that make them all work. They are:

1. "Aluminum by Design: Jewelry to Jets"

This well-researched, fascinating 350-item exhibition is the first to tell the global story of aluminum, from its beginnings as a precious metal, in the 19th century, through the technological processes and marketing campaigns that made it the ubiquitous material it is today. Integrated within that history is an outline of 20th-century design. At the Carnegie Museum of Art, where it originated, through Feb. 11, before it travels to national and international venues.

2. "Andy Warhol: Photography" and "Andy Warhol Drawings, 1942-1987"

These complementary exhibitions, one following the other early in the year at The Andy Warhol Museum, revealed new aspects of Warhol's personality and working style. They also contained a body of less-seen work that broadened appreciation of his talent and supported his status as a significant 20th-century artist.

3. "From the Sun King to the Royal Twilight: Painting in Eighteenth-Century France from the Musee de Picardie, Amiens"

This rich exhibition reignites excitement for painting. From the eloquence of Chardin's still lifes to formal portraits of monarchs, the tone is elegance and the visitor's experience is regal. At The Frick Art Museum, The Frick Art & Historical Center, through Jan. 14.

4. "Visions, Fragments, and Impressions: French Nineteenth-Century Drawings and Bronzes from the Collection of Herbert and Carol Diamond"

Among the 60 drawings and 23 casts from this refined private collection are small works by such masters as Cezanne, Degas, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec. The exhibition is complemented by a first-class catalog by University of Pittsburgh art historian Aaron Sheon. At the Carnegie Museum of Art through Jan. 14. (Donald Miller)

5. "Ceramica Puertorriquena Hoy/ Today: An Exhibition of Contemporary Puerto Rican Ceramics"

This scintillating display of imaginative, well-crafted, large and small sculptural works showed that contemporary art speaks a global language that is often made more intriguing by its regional accents. The Society for Contemporary Craft exhibition was curated collaboratively by nonprofit art centers in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico.

6. "Irish Art Now: From the Poetic to the Political"

As with the Puerto Rican ceramists, these artists are based in local experience that they make universal through sophisticated, provocative artworks. Curated by the founding director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, it was brought here by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

7. "Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival"

The story of the ongoing collaboration between Maine native Rollins and the South Bronx teens who've signed on with him since the early 1980s is fiery, passionate, tough, exuberant and ultimately a testimonial to the power of art and the transcendent capability of the human spirit. The museum-quality art they produce (in the collections of MOMA and the Whitney) was shown at the Wood Street Galleries, along with an exceptional video that took the viewer into their studio. Rollins also led a project with students from the Liberty International Studies Elementary School while in town.

8. "Ansel Adams: Photographs From the Polaroid Collection"

Rarely seen one-of-a-kind works by this seminal American fine art photographer, vintage prints of some of his most renowned photographs and archival material that offers a glimpse into his personality make this an exceptional exhibition. It's at the Silver Eye Center for Photography through Jan. 27.

9. "No Ordinary Land: Encounters in a Changing Environment"

Photographers Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee use captivatingly beautiful imagery to make statements of environmental caution and concern. This striking show, which included 55 color photographs, was at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

10. "Artist of the Year: Fifty Years"

A milestone had been reached in the history of the prestigious Artist of the Year exhibitions at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and curator Vicky Clark took a commendable step in organizing a show that paid tribute to all of those artists who had exhibited. The result was a celebration of some of the art community's finest and a gathering of work that spanned half a century. Festive events brought people together, some from as far as both coasts and Texas, to reminisce and to admire the art displayed. (M.T. and D.M.)

Honorable mentions . . .

To "30 Curators" at Concept Art Gallery, a stimulating exhibition created by 30 regional art professionals who were given carte blanche to select an artist for inclusion.

To "The Frame in America: 1860-1960," at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, an unlikely but informative exhibition that brimmed with beauty, craft, history and design.



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