Action film buffs, new media artists and ideologues will find common ground in the dynamic work of electronic media artist Andres Tapia-Urzua.
A "Video Retrospective, 1990-2009" at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is a good introduction to the cosmopolitan sensibility that informs the intellectual and formal structure of Tapia-Urzua's expression.
Born in the United States, Tapia-Urzua grew up in Chile under the totalitarian Pinochet regime, an experience reflected at times in militaristic presence and kidnapping scenes wherein fear leaps across the screen like a puma from a tree.
But these aren't audience exploitation films. Emotion is urgent rather than pro forma, situations are complex rather than vapidly drawn, and violence underscores daily life in an authentically chilling way that can't be dismissed as preposterous the way Hollywood-style special effects may be.
Such videos are artful and seductive even, while horrifying. At other moments, the works are lyrical, even poetic, as when a pretty woman swimming languidly in a pool says, matter-of-factly, "sadness has no end, but happiness does."
Tapia-Urzua, who returned to the States in 1986, has been affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers. He is department chair of the Digital Filmmaking & Video Production andthe Visual Effects & Motion Graphics programs at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
He founded Plan Z Media, a video, sound and multimedia production company specializing in the arts, and initiated the 2005 "My Terrorism Video Festival" to challenge compliant media coverage of the charged subject (see his "Terminal," in the retrospective).
Tapia-Urzua's subject matter ranges from explorations of the cross-cultural body in a global world (see "Spanglish" and "UP") to critiques of both technical and political aspects of media product.
The program of 10 videos runs a little over three hours.
Tapia-Urzua's exhibition is one of five at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, the quality and variety of which signal that the organization is settling comfortably into its community arts center role, which has been undergoing revision in recent years.
Also exceptional is Carnegie Mellon University professor Patricia Bellan-Gillen's solo exhibition "ZOO.Logic+," comprising 16 paintings and 3 prints.
Her large (up to 84 by 200 inches) oil and acrylic paintings on birch panels, at times embellished with drawings or found objects, are ethereal and enigmatic.
Bellan-Gillen has established a vocabulary of symbols -- a stag, a snowman, jack-o-lanterns -- some personal and others drawn from religious, cultural and art history, which she combines in thought-provoking compositions. The works are at once timeless and interspersed with period references, mixing profundity and foolishness. Titles such as "War by Proxy/Spy vs. Spy" and "Stealing God" guide while allowing for individual completion of a narrative.
Bellan-Gillen is a consummate draftsman, particularly of the animals to which the show's title alludes. Their presence suggests nature and environmental concerns but also traditional attributes that have been ascribed to animals over centuries.
Suggested is a spirit world in reverse, the animals beautifully articulated while the environments they -- and by extension the visitor for whom the paintings' edges at times lie beyond peripheral vision -- exist within are barely defined, dreamy and frequently aglow with an internal luminescence.
She is one of the region's finest artists and such a gathering of work illustrates why.
Two group exhibitions show the breadth of contemporary art practice.
"Transformations," by The Society of Yoruba Bead Artists, draws its force from ritual, tradition and media once considered craft. The inkjet prints and projections of "CODE and FORM: C.E.B. Reas & Marius Watz," are high tech, conceptual and cutting edge. Both reward exploration.
Finally, "Small Works, BIG Ideas!," a juried Associated Artists of Pittsburgh show, updates what members of this varied artist organization are creating as it nears its centennial year.
The exhibitions continue through April 19 at 6300 Fifth Ave. at Shady Avenue. Admission is $5 suggested donation; members free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 412-361-0873 or visit pittsburgharts.org.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1925.