The 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial has stirred a lot of speculation and buzz since it announced last year that it would spread into five venues and combine the judgment and insight of four of the city's most innovative young curators.
The lid comes off Friday with the first of a round of opening celebrations at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where the Biennial was founded in 1994, and at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. On June 16, the Carnegie Museum of Art portion opens.
The final two venues, The Andy Warhol Museum and The Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, unveil their shows in September.
The excitement comes from the fact that these premier institutions are showcasing artists from our area, many of whom are known nationally or internationally but only infrequently have opportunity to show here.
One overlap weekend in September will offer visitors the opportunity to take in all of the 60-plus exhibiting artists. But to get the full experience, plan to attend at least some of the artist talks, panels or other coinciding events -- discuss the artworks, hear where the ideas for them originated and agree or disagree with the choices of the curators: Eric Shiner, Astria Suparak, Dan Byers and Adam Welch.
The expansion of the Biennial, and concomitant recognition that there is a large, accomplished and vital local art community, is part of a synergy that's occurring in the region now, said Laura Domencic, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts director.
The last Biennial was the first one after the merger of the center and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and introduced the idea of multiple sites, Ms. Domencic said. "But we also have people like Eric, Astria, Dan, and Adam -- a new generation of curators in all these major organizations."
The Biennial follows the center's core mission, "to support local artists," Ms. Domencic said, but local doesn't mean less. "Some Biennial artists have gone on to exhibit elsewhere nationally. This is really valid work no matter where you are."
The idea to expand the Biennial began casually during a conversation between Center/Filmmakers Executive Director Charlie Humphrey and Tom Sokolowski, then director of The Andy Warhol Museum. As the discussion picked up speed and more institutions came on board, the main limitations to how far throughout the city it might spread were time and institutional scheduling commitments.
Economics has also been a consideration over the past few years, said Mr. Welch, curator for Center/Filmmakers. Perhaps money concerns caused them to pull in the reins a bit, but it didn't dampen enthusiasm. Each venue promises a different side of our many-faceted artist community, something the curators worked hard to achieve.
"I think we all have our different ideas and different ideals about shows," Mr. Welch said. "This [arrangement] lends itself to maintaining those."
He said his background has focused on collaborating with artists on artwork and that this is his first collaboration with curators. He describes it as "a soft collaboration" in that each curator maintains aesthetic identity and reflects the mission of the establishment he or she works within.
"We talked back and forth, but the curators had domain over their spaces. There wasn't too strict a model that we imposed upon the show." The main concern, Mr. Welch said, was how far could they separate into different thematic areas and still remain one show.
Artists, installers and curators were working busily as this article went to print, but Mr. Welch seemed pleased that the long months of effort by all involved resulted in a varied and diverse show.
"There's a lot happening around us that defines us as a region. It's not just what's Downtown at the Point, or at the largest institution that gets the most funding."
For a list of artists, visit www.post-gazette.com/pg/11127/1144704-437-0.stm.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.