Art haul nets Carnegie Museum 80 percent of International show

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Nearly 50 contemporary artworks exhibited in the Carnegie International have been acquired by the Carnegie Museum of Art. This means that 80 percent of the 35 artists whose works are on view through March 16 will be represented in the permanent collection.

The museum's acquisitions from the International, which opened Oct. 5, include a large, colorful sculpture by British artist Phyllida Barlow, 15 photographs from an I-95 series shot in Philadelphia by Zoe Strauss and two vivid drawings by Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh titled "My Heart Is Not Here, My Heart's in The Highlands, Chasing the Deers."

"We are purchasing 80 percent of the artists whose work was exhibited in the show," said Daniel Baumann, who curated the exhibition with Daniel Byers and Tina Kukielski.

Museum spokesman Jonathan Gaugler said the percentage of artists whose work was purchased from the show is "very high."

"There's no question that we have acquired more art this time than we have in past internationals," Mr. Gaugler said.

The purchases, approved at a meeting Thursday and announced Monday, are the first of two rounds of acquisitions from the showcase of contemporary art, Mr. Gaugler said. More purchases will be announced next year. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie founded the International in 1896 with a goal of building the museum's collection.

Mr. Baumann explained why it makes sense to buy artworks from the International.

"The museum invests in production. So when we buy out of the exhibition, we can reduce production costs so it makes the acquisition cheaper," he said Monday in a telephone interview.

"It's a great opportunity to buy works that have never been shown. Many of these works premiered in Pittsburgh. It also makes sense to keep these works in Pittsburgh rather than send them to New York and buy them in a gallery."

The three-dimensional Barlow work, made in 2012, is called "Untitled: upturnedhouse" and is made of lumber, plywood, scrim, cement, polystyrene, paint and varnish.

"It is a spectacular piece. Docents say they like to talk about it. It allows them to approach art from a very different way. You can talk about it as sculpture, architecture and a three-dimensional painting," Mr. Baumann said.

Docents also connect the Barlow sculpture with a nearby Giacometti sculpture and a Willem de Kooning painting called "Woman VI," done in 1953.

This year's Carnegie International included a reinstallation of selected artworks acquired in past internationals.

"I think it was very important for us to rehang the collection," Mr. Baumann said. "It allowed us to study the collection. If you collect for a museum, you always think about: Does a work you want to acquire make sense within the context of the existing collection?"

The museum of art does not take an encyclopedic approach to collecting contemporary art, he said, adding that only larger museums such as the Museum of Modern Art or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York City, can afford to do that.

The curators decided to "strengthen the collection where it is already strong," adding that the museum has collected a lot of sculpture during the past 25 years, including works by Ms. Barlow and Louise Bourgeois.

Another strength is the museum's film collection. "We're buying about six or seven films," Mr. Baumann said.

Martin McGuinn, who chairs the museum of art's board, said he would not be surprised if the high percentage of artists whose work has been purchased represents a record. "It's consistent with the philosophy of having the International and then continuing to make purchases out of it."

The process for acquiring artworks is deliberative, rigorous and thorough, he said, adding that purchases are vetted by a collections committee. Mr. Gaugler declined to say how much money was spent for the purchases or estimate the total value of the works.

"The works are there because they are important -- not because they are worth X amount of dollars," he said.

Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.

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