Last weekend, an effusive collective "Yes!" confirmed the interest in and power of the visual arts in Pittsburgh. Fueled by the opening of the 55th Carnegie International, city venues presented major exhibitions for the pleasure of local audiences and also with the hope of attracting visiting cognoscenti.
My concern was that so many options would lessen attendance at any one event, diluting the communal exchange that gives life to curators' and artists' visions. But judging from the numbers reported by consistently delighted local organizations, that didn't happen as visitors packed parties, filled galleries, and plumped the bottom line of cafes and gift shops.
The Carnegie drew 1,377 to its Friday night gala, 933 for the Strolling Dinner with 444 more joining the festivities during the Late Night Event. Award presentations highlighted what was by all reports a dazzling night.
The venerable Carnegie Prize was awarded to Vija Celmins, a respected figure in her own right, born in 1938 in Latvia and now residing in New York City. Her exhibited "Night Sky" paintings, dark backgrounds dotted with an array of variously sized white specks, speak simultaneously to the abundance and emptiness we confront in spaces specific or vague.
The first Fine Prize, established by the Fine Foundation to recognize an emerging artist, was awarded in absentia to Apichatpong Weerasethakul of Bangkok, Thailand. The independent experimental filmmaker, who was born in 1970, exhibits videos that draw upon Thai traditional and pop cultural imagery and practices for content.
Each prize is accompanied by a $10,000 gift to the artist.
A members-only reception Sunday drew 2,100, of which 878 attended the curator's lecture.
The weekend museum attendance (which includes Carnegie Museum of Natural History) was 2,677. As of yesterday, visitors included groups from the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the Seattle Art Museum; and Sotheby's.
The Andy Warhol Museum's Saturday Whole Boogie Woogie Party, welcoming "Piet (Mondrian) in Pittsburgh" and "Transformer: The Work of Glenn Kaino," attracted 807. Weekend attendance, Friday through Sunday, was 1,707.
Mattress Factory, which counted "just over 300" at the opening of "Inner and Outer Space" a week ago, had approximately 730 visitors this weekend. Local, national and international media attended a special meet-the-curator event Thursday designed to coincide with the International opening, and the New Museum and Seattle groups also stopped by.
The Carnegie and Mattress Factory were in frequent contact as the International year took shape, and shared information about each other's venues to visitors. And The Warhol was a natural to hold an opening since it typically hosts Carnegie International crowds the evening after the Gala.
I was surprised, however, that the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Filmmakers chose to open the "2008 Biennial" the same weekend. That could be read as a vote of confidence in their audience and a presumption that people would party hop during the night. Or, and I hope not, it could be read as a disconnect between local artists and the larger international art community.
In any event, close to 600 persons supported local art at a Biennial bi-venue party that was extremely affordable by weekend rates.
Similarly, the Pittsburgh Glass Center opened "Glass & Steel: Art Transcends Industry" Friday night with approximately 300 in attendance and standing room only in the hot shop for Australian glass artist Ben Edols' demonstration.
Finally, 325 attended the Friday opening of "MAYDAY!," the BFA Senior Exhibit 2008 at Carnegie Mellon University's Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, an event probably driven as much by the semester calendar as by the International. Fifty additional visitors stopped by over the weekend.
The upshot of this turnout -- underscored by the fiscal and physical commitments that brought the exhibitions to fruition -- is that the art scene here is not only widespread but appreciated. I hope that attendance numbers continue to support that observation, and that they reflect a community as curious about the international world of ideas and expression as it is justifiably proud of the achievements of the artists and organizations that enrich us locally on a daily basis.
One theory about the formation of the continents is that they split off from an original single landmass named Pangea. Documentary filmmaker Jehane Noujaim created Pangea Day to pull those continents -- at least their peoples -- together again by using the "power of film to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future."
Saturday sites in Cairo; Kigali, Rwanda; London; Los Angeles; Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro will be linked live for a program of music, speakers and 24 short films that were selected from 2,500 submissions from more than 100 countries.
In Pittsburgh, you can participate with others at two venues where the program will be streamed live from 2 to 6 p.m. They are Breed Hall (Room 103) in the Margaret Morrison Building, Carnegie Mellon, Oakland, and at The Creative TreeHouse, 517 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue (both free). For more information, including ways to stay involved past Saturday, go to www.pangeaday.org/attend_map.php.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.