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Art Review: Inspired by nature and spirit, depth and fluff

Monday, August 12, 2002

By Ellen Wilson

There is much to ponder in the Resident Artists exhibition at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The PCA has recently become the region's recruitment center for the Arts in Education Division of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, which places practicing artists in school and community settings, and this exhibit presents the work of 11 artists participating in the program.

Cindy Snodgrass' "Birds in the Balance" installation at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is oriented toward children, rich with colorful birds, sounds and a mix of warnings, provocative questions and delight. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

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Cindy Snodgrass brings elements of former residency projects into her installation "Birds in the Balance," not only in the dozens of large and colorful cardboard birds suspended from the ceiling -- which were made by school children in Ohio -- but also in newspaper clippings and other forms of documentation about past projects. This installation immediately draws a visitor in with a statement that the piece is "for children" and "about children," as well as with its background music of bird sounds and rain.

The piece is both a study of use of resources and a reminder to appreciate what we have -- a strange mix of warnings, provocative questions and delight. "If you had to carry your water from a river or a well, how much would you use in a day?" is printed on a piece of paper surrounded by bottles of Aquafina and mirrors on a sandy base. There is a wealth of intellectual layers in this one corner alone, a consideration of how the rest of the world uses water, and our newfound glee in bottled water when so many countries are parched for lack of safe tap water, which is readily abundant to us. Do we use too much? The recorded sounds of water rushing make you thirsty as you stop and think about it.

Karen Page's work is inspired by the natural world in a less troubling way. Her handmade felt piece, "Persistence of Memory I (Vinalhaven)" is suspended over a tray of pine needles and pine cones, and their fresh smell delicately perfumes the gallery. The wool fibers of the felt still have the curls of the sheep in them, and something of its animal nature as well, a more powerful work than "Persistence of Memory II (Ocean Point)" across the room.

Laura Domencic's mystical works, 11 small oil paintings that complement each other, focus on such evocative shapes as arched windows and tracks or bridges, architectural elements that are freighted with meaning. These beautiful works inspire meditation, which is facilitated by their hanging alone in a quiet alcove.

Wound with whimsy, "Mohair Lint" by Cheryl Capezzuti is part of the Resident Artists exhibit now at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

So many pieces in this exhibition demand and deserve attention: Melissa Davenport's beautifully made metal baskets coupled with silver infant spoons; Donna Hetrick's pottery, both flowing and organic as well as more formal in shape; Elena Hiatt Houlihan's photographic montages, which offer commentary on the commercialization and Westernization of icons in Japan and Southeast Asia.

In a dark gallery on the second floor, Jeremy Boyle's clever works include an untitled piece in which a sub-woofer is submerged in liquid; the inaudible sound waves creating lovely patterns both on the watery surface and in a reflection on the wall.

Cathleen Richardson Bailey's small beaded quilts are jewels in themselves, inspirational and elaborately worked, while Allyson Holtz ponders a different sort of handiwork in the possessions of prison inmates.

Constance Merriman has several pieces throughout the show, including a painful look at domestic violence composed of a set of small plexi-glass houses, and a beautiful Mother and Child series.

The humble and whimsical figures from Cheryl Capezzuti's National Lint Project make up one of the more compelling presentations of the show. Capezzuti accepts dryer lint contributions from all over the world, which are then sculpted into small figures and returned to the donor. This installation includes notes from the contributors -- look for lint from people you know! -- specifying the nature and source, which affects the resulting figure. "Mohair Lint" has a wispy, unearthly quality, while "Well-Traveled Lint" looks tired. "Vintage 1930s Blanket Lint," is a reclining pea-green Venus waving a jaunty hand in the air, and "Very Hairy Dog Lint" has the most pronounced facial expression of them all.

While Capezzuti acknowledges that her work is "dangerously close to laughable" in the accompanying statement, she has hit on a common denominator in the laundry-drying world while provoking questions about the nature of art. To find all this and humor too is a rare thing.

Mosley recognized

A concurrent exhibition, "Service to the Arts Award: Thaddeus Mosley," contains nine new works by this well-known sculptor. Incorporating found metal objects and stone, these characteristically energetic works exhibit a respect for the natural materials from which they are made. The rhythmic chisel marks are clearly visible on the wood, and the pieces have a fluid grace that evokes the work of Brancusi as well as forms found in the wild.

In "Columns," three standing walnut forms on a stone base turn in to face each other like a closed family unit, while the three parts of "Percussion Patterns 2,"of walnut, cherry and steel, stand apart in a more open and casual dance.

Now in its fifth year, the Service to the Arts Award is given by the PCA Guild Council to a member of the local arts community for demonstrating inspiration, involvement, commitment and passion for the arts. This exhibition of Mosley's work, his first solo show since a 1997 exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art, has been extended to Oct. 27.

"PCA Resident Artists" is at 6300 Fifth Ave. in Shadyside through Aug. 18, and "Thaddeus Mosley" is there through Oct. 27. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 412-361-0873.

Ellen Wilson is a free-lance critic for the Post-Gazette.

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