Best Art Exhibition of 2008: 'Life on Mars'

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In its 250th anniversary year Pittsburgh continued the commitment to the visual arts that was locally institutionalized by Andrew Carnegie in 1896 when he initiated the first international survey exhibition of contemporary art in America. Following are 10 standouts among the many exhibitions that reflected that heritage of culture over the past dozen months.

1. Carnegie International "Life on Mars": Leading the list is Mr. Carnegie's legacy, the 2008-09 International, at Carnegie Museum of Art, comprising 40 artists from 17 countries. Noted painter Vija Celmins was awarded the venerable Carnegie Prize, and experimental filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul received the first Fine Prize, established this year by the Fine Foundation to recognize an emerging artist (continues through Jan. 11).

2. "Painting in the United States": Appropriate to both International and anniversary years was this Westmoreland Museum of American Art exhibition comprising 48 paintings by artists who participated in the exhibitions held by the Carnegie Institute (now Carnegie Museum of Art) in lieu of the Carnegie International during World War II (1943-49).

3. "A Panorama of Pittsburgh: Nineteenth-Century Printed Views": The city's 250th birthday generated a few inspired exhibitions (and more that fell short of the mark). Stellar was "Panorama" at The Frick Art & Historical Center, comprising more than 130 printed views of the city and accompanied by a handsome book that is also a welcome reference work.

4. "Voices": The 2008 Invitational Exhibition of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, which met in Pittsburgh in March and spawned more than 100 clay exhibitions in the area, including this visual and tactile buffet at the Society for Contemporary Craft.

5. "Scenic Views: Painters of the Scalp Level School Revisited": The Westmoreland Museum of American Art exhibition comprises 69 paintings that have not previously been exhibited, shedding more light on this relatively unknown 19th-century Western Pennsylvania school that is gaining national interest (contines through Feb. 1).

6. "Transformer: The Art of Glenn Kaino": The Andy Warhol Museum exhibition richly introduced the West Coast artist who created the Pittsburgh 250, 20-foot-tall sculpture "Transformer," which currently resides at the Fort Duquesne Boulevard end of the Andy Warhol (Seventh Street) Bridge.

7. "Inner and Outer Space": Nine international artists selected by guest curator Dara Meyers-Kingsley probed "Inner and Outer Space" to create works ranging from meditative to heart-stopping at the Mattress Factory (continues through Jan. 11).

8. "Gravity of Light": The art installation, organized by Wood Street Galleries, was a high point of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's 2008 International Festival of Firsts. Twins Doug and Mike Starn, who created the piece in the Strip District's Pipe Building, recently completed a more than $1 million commission for the South Ferry station of the New York subway that will open next month.

9. "From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci: A Century of Italian Drawings From the Prado": At The Frick Art & Historical Center, 70 splendid drawings, most never seen outside the esteemed Madrid museum (ends Sunday).

10. "From the Ruhr Valley to the Steel City: Industrial Scenes From the Rhineland Industrial Museum" of Oberhausen, Germany: Last year, when paintings of industrial scenes from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art "Born of Fire: The Valley of Work" collection traveled to the Rhineland museum, the paintings, works on paper, sculpture and photographs in this show were exhibited alongside. Dignitaries from Germany attended the Oktoberfest-style opening of the Rhineland exhibition at the Westmoreland, further cementing relationships between U.S. and German cultural communities.

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


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