Westmoreland Museum exhibit illuminates versatility and mastery of the late Aaronel deRoy Gruber



The late Aaronel deRoy Gruber achieved on many levels. During her 61-year artistic career, she explored painting, sculpture and, finally, photography and video. She was also mother of three and wife of Irving Gruber, who will recount "Love & Art: Stories With Irv" at 6 p.m. Friday at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg.

Mr. Gruber, who is 98, met his future wife at a Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) fraternity dance. He will speak about their 71 years together, their children and what it was like to be married to a determined, widely exhibited artist.

"There's no talking about Aaronel without Irv," said Barbara Jones, museum chief curator and exhibition organizer. "He was there, stretching canvases, moving her work, driving the U-Haul [to exhibitions]."

Artist's sculptures showcased at Westmoreland Museum

The late Aaronel deRoy Gruber worked in many mediums. Chief curator Barbara Jones of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art has created a show of her plexiglass sculptures. (Video by Doug Oster; 4/24/2013)

The free talk is scheduled in conjunction with the exhibition "Aaronel deRoy Gruber: Art(ist) in Motion," which emphasizes the artist's kinetic Plexiglas sculpture, but also includes other sculpture as well as paintings, photographs and video.

After earning a degree in fashion economics at Carnegie Institute, Mrs. Gruber (1918-2011) was first an abstract expressionist painter, eventually pushing forms into her canvases to shape them and add a third dimension.

Mr. Gruber received his degree in industrial management and worked for the National Tube Works, McKeesport, and United Tube Corp., Ellwood City, before becoming president and co-owner of American Forge Manufacturing Co., McKees Rocks. Since 1980, he has been an independent broker for mergers and acquisitions.

In the early 1960s Mrs. Gruber met noted New York sculptor David Smith, who advised her to try working with steel at her husband's foundry. Her largest sculpture, "Steel Cityscape," was purchased by the City of Pittsburgh and first installed at the City-County Building, Downtown. Recently, it was restored and reinstalled in Mellon Park, Shadyside. (Renee Piechocki, founding director of Pittsburgh's Office of Public Art helped facilitate the restoration. She will give a free talk at noon May 15 on placing and caring for public art.)

Following steel and aluminum, Mrs. Gruber worked with colorful Plexiglas, becoming an innovator in the use of vacuum-forming to create the geometric shapes of her sculpture. Panels placed in stationary works change as the viewer moves around them. Some works may be rotated manually, while motors drive others. Many are illuminated. As they revolve, shadows shrink into and expand over surrounding space; viewers and objects are reflected in surfaces; and colors morph.

"She really was interested in the layering, and how the piece would change as it turned," Ms. Jones said.

The works are finely crafted, the plastic edges buffed and polished to a mirror sheen, clear surfaces pristine and compelling in their airless depth, or with colors vividly fluorescing in compressed bands. They animate the gallery in a choreographed display of form and light.

Mrs. Gruber was personally fashionable, as illustrated in several enlarged photographs dating from the 1960s to 2009, and in a lesser known line of jewelry (many items are for sale). Kenneth Love's 53-minute-long documentary "Aaronel deRoy Gruber: A Life in Art," which argues well for her legacy, is shown at 1 and 3 p.m. during museum hours. (Mr. Love will speak about interviewing the artist, her family and colleagues at 6 p.m. May 17; free.)

In 1981, Mrs. Gruber switched to a camera, and Pittsburgh industrial scenes and other landscapes are exhibited as well as large inkjet prints of motion-blurred Cirque du Soleil performers.

This "Circus Circus" series of swirling performers abstracted to swaths of color shows the continuity of her aesthetic evolution, Ms. Jones said in the Love documentary.

"From her painting, which is all about color and expression, to her kinetic sculpture, which is all about color, light and movement, and then on to color photography, which I think shows the combination of both mediums, and how both mediums have informed the new work, it's really color and light in motion, and I think it's very much like painting with photography."

Mrs. Gruber once wrote that her intention was to offer through her work "a rewarding object for contemplation, thus giving the viewer a kaleidoscopic view into the artist's imagination."

The objects in this well-conceived exhibition confirm that she succeeded.

The exhibition continues through June 2 at 221 N. Main St., Greensburg. Check out the fine work of Karen Kaighin and Barry Shields through April 28. Admission is $5 suggested donation for adults, free for children under 12 and students. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and until 8 p.m. Fridays. Information: 724-837-1500 or www.wmuseumaa.org.

The New Westmoreland

Representatives of the architectural and landscape firms responsible for the renovation and expansion of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art will discuss the project at a free public event from 6:30 to 8 p.m. May 1. The discussions coincide with the formal opening of the "War Room" exhibition, which includes a model of, plans for, and materials to be used in the new building and exterior redesign.

Susan Rodriguez, design partner, and Tim Hartung, management partner of Ennead Architects LLP of New York City and Frederick Bonci of LaQuartra Bonci Associates of Pittsburgh will speak. RSVP at 724-837-1500, ext. 36, or blarkin@wmuseumaa.org.

Groundbreaking will take place July 12. The museum's North Main Street location will be closed for two years, but activities and exhibitions will continue during that period at 1000 Village Drive, Route 30 East, Greensburg (the former Stickley-Audi Furniture building).

Gallery Crawl

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust spring Gallery Crawl will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at 36 locations in the Cultural District, Downtown. The free public event is designed for all ages and includes art exhibitions, live bands, DJs, dance and theater. A highlight is the exhibition "Momento Mori," by Gregory Barsamian, at Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., spilling into Tito Way. For information and a map, visit www.TrustArts.org or call 412-456-6666.

Art All Night

The 16th installment of Art All Night: Lawrenceville, a Pittsburgh institution that democratized art, will be held from 4 p.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday in the warehouse at 97 40th St. (at Willow), Lawrenceville. The free public event drew 12,000 guests last year and exhibited work by 1,175 artists. In addition to a visual art show, it includes live entertainment, ongoing on-site painting and cartooning collaborations, and an auction. Children's activities will be offered 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday near a youth-friendly section (all other areas are uncensored). Information: http://artallnight.org.

Frick NEA award

The Frick Art & Historical Center, Point Breeze, has received a $30,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the conservation treatment of a 16th Century Flemish tapestry in its collection. "Rest on the Flight Into Egypt' is among four tapestries that usually hang in The Frick Art Museum rotunda. It was purchased in 1969 by Helen Clay Frick. The historical center request was among 817 awarded from a field of 1,547 submissions. The conservation is expected to take a year and the museum plans to reinstall the work in mid-2014.

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Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925. First Published April 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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