Eclectic exhibitions exude energy at Center for the Arts

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The great thing about the current slate of exhibitions at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is that, no matter what your interest, you'll find something there to catch it. Photography, sewing, wood sculpture, painting, mixed media, etching, knitting -- it's all here, under one roof.

The Pittsburgh Print Group, Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, Matthew Friday, Sue Abramson, Jonathan Shapiro, Robert Qualters and Charlee Brodsky all opened shows in that happy yellow mansion on the hill last month. There's a lot of eclectic goodness to take in, so pace yourself.

A large first-floor gallery holds flowers poking out of the wall, cascading capes, a dress made of pierogies, funky yarn creatures, hot pink thread toothpicks marching up a wall, all work of Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh members. Some items fit the show's "Making Connections" theme better than others, such as Sharon Wall's "The Mother, The Daughter and The DNA Code." The large quilt shows the outlines of two figures. Between them grows a tree with medical book pictures of ears, eyes, hearts stitched up and down its trunk. As the wall label explains, the figures are the outlines of Wall and her daughter, the "stout one" being Wall and the "thin one" her daughter. Wall was inspired after receiving news of a genetic health condition.

Across the room, Patricia Milford picks up the mother/daughter thread with her "Mothers and Daughters" cloak. Milford's mom taught her to knit and crochet. So Milford knitted the long, grass-like yarn that drops lushly to the floor and crocheted flowers to decorate and dot it throughout. The result is like something the queen of the fairies would wear in a children's book.

The smaller, adjoining room holds some pieces that are simply fun.

How else to describe the felt pierogi dress? David Watts used felt and fiberfill to create slightly larger than normal pierogies and sewed the ends together, forming a sleeveless mini-dress. The result of "Putting on the Pounds" is a chuckle at the Picksburgh yinzer in all of us and the thought "Mmmm ... pierogies."

Equally cool is Laura Tabakman's "Floating Garden -- Connected Through Air." The artist used stiffened rusted silk to create a garden jutting out of the wall. The brownish/tan flowers float like the tops of jellyfish, some open, some delicate balls. Thin wire stems stuck into the wall keep them afloat.

How does a floating garden make a connection? Tabakman's artist statement explained, "We all share the same air ... This floating garden connects to the viewer through the small portion of air they share."

Although there's plenty to keep your attention, save some time for the four shows upstairs. If your feet are beginning to ache and your attention span is getting shorter, head for the one in the center, "Autumn."

A collaboration between painter Robert Qualters and photographer Charlee Brodsky, "Autumn" is a searingly personal, thought-provoking study of aging.

The subject in all the pieces, painting or picture, is Qualters or, more specifically, his ear, his feet and legs, his hand in his pocket. Brodsky's black-and-white close-ups of the features of a 71-year-old man are warm and tender. The detail forces the viewer to examine all the physical signs of age -- the wrinkles and loose skin and white hair. Stuck to the pictures, in Post-it note style, are yellow legal pad scraps that give more insight into Qualters' life as a human in his seventh decade.

In one (all the photographs are unnamed), Brodsky focuses on Qualters' knees as he sits in a chair. His legs are thick and droopy and look hairless. His hands rest easy on his thighs. A long scar snakes down his left knee. Below, the note says, "My left titanium knee replacement is misshapen and sometimes painful. Two big screws that look like C-clamps hold my spinal column together."

Qualters takes those pictures and adds paint and personal notations, as in "Prisoner," where he paints a green chain link fence over a photograph of his knees. His note, painted at the bottom, reads, "I don't know how to get out of this. Or if I want to. Who can I ask? What should I do?"

"The Wolfman Grows Older" depicts the thin spot in the back of Qualters' hair. He sadly asks "Being named Larry, Tom or Bob is tough enough for a cold beast ... but can a monster have a bald spot in the back of the head? Arthritis? A knee replacement?"

So whether you're a fan of pierogi dresses or Jonathan Shapiro's wood sculpture laid out on a glass operating table strung from the ceiling or Matthew Friday's radical presidential portraits, you're guaranteed to find something you like. Just take some water and an energy bar along with you -- you're gonna need it.

Other exhibitions at 6300 Fifth Ave., Squirrel Hill, through Jan. 25 include: "Altered States" by the Pittsburgh Print Group; "History Remembered as an Image," paintings by Matthew Friday; and "The Forest Inside" and "Specimens" by Sue Abramson and Jonathan Shapiro. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays (closed New Year's Day). Admission is free. More information: 412-361-0873.

Kate McCaffrey can be reached at or 412-263-1601.


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