The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s 103rd Annual Exhibition is strong in both noteworthy individual works and in the multifaceted portrait it provides of contemporary artmaking in the region. The exhibition is at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location, Westmoreland @rt 30, 4764 Route 30 east of Greensburg.
Juror Barbara Jones, who is the museum’s chief curator, selected 78 works by 66 artists from 341 total submissions. She was commendably open to the variety of work she reviewed and aimed through her choices to present “a sense of what’s going on in this region,” she said. Although diverse in expression, “there’s quality in all of it. It becomes a very eclectic exhibition. But it shows that artists are out there pushing the envelope.”
That exploration is most evident in media, ranging from the recycled coffee filters of Rhoda Taylor’s fanciful “Java -- 336 Cups” to Sarika Goulatia’s transformation of everyday objects in her “Untitled” tryptych, which may be read as a three-dimensional drawing, and in the photogram-like charcoal-dusted imagery of 36-panel “Reminiscences.”
Rachael Burke works illusory magic with acrylic, canvas and Mylar for the dystopian city scene of “Fragments.” It’s hung with two dark dreamscapes of Lauren Braun’s very fine “Rust Belt Collage Series 2012,” PJ Zimmerlink’s upturned painting “How Do You Say Practice Makes Perfect in Latin,” and the ragged wood, latex, silicone and rubber surfaces of Ryan Lammie’s “Series 9.” The grouping intensifies the ruminative quality of any individual piece.
Carolyn Frischling brings 21st-century technology to “Actualizing Abstraction,” realized as a digital print and, with Isaac Budmen, as a 3-D sandstone print, escalating the application of the three-dimensional printer from hardware parts to a work of art. The notion is a little disconcerting, but the visual exercise between flat and sculptural planes is revealing. Her vibrantly colorful “Quidditas/Unknowable” triptych, resin-coated digital prints on aluminum, has a gloss and fluidity reminiscent of blown glass.
Ms. Jones included the only video work submitted, Kyle Milne’s engaging seven-minute “I’ve Gone Too Far To Go Back,” a walk simultaneously to the top of American Flag Mountain in Colorado and to one’s inner self.
“I was looking for balance. I was looking for purpose. I wasn’t going back,” Mr. Milne writes.
He notes the elevation, longitude and latitude of the performance made against the dramatic Rockies backdrop. I could see it projected wall-sized in the round as was done with Ugo Rondinone's "Roundelay" during the 2004 Carnegie International, a cyclical walking meditation.
But new media aren’t the only order of the day in this annual. One of the most accomplished works is David Stanger’s exquisite oil on linen “Skull,” clinical as a medical lab shelf, contemplative as Hamlet’s Yorick, exceptional in execution and in presentation. Seth Clark continues to evolve architecture as symbol in masterful “Mass I,” a spherical vortex of splintered facades with Wyethian windows.
Oil painting is lush -- colorful and thick in abstracts by Mia Tarducci Henry (“Cut”) and Scott Hunter (“Quick and the Dead”); accomplished in composition and technique in Ben Gibson’s “Swamp Stump;” exacting in Patrick Daugherty’s rendition of a peeling wall that visually pushes off the canvas even as one intellectually knows that the represented surface is flat.
Mary Weidner’s nostalgic, beautifully expressed “Dust Bowl Carnie” works beg for a storyline; the subjects are so authentic that they must have once existed. Kathleen Kase Burk’s painstakingly drawn “Birds of the World,” a play on Roger Tory Peterson, also caused me to think of the Taryn Simon “Birds of the West Indies” in the last Carnegie International. Katherine J. McLean captures the essence of dog in her mixed media tail-wagging “Pete” and “Pink Dog” which leans into Francis Bacon territory.
Photography is well-represented and highlights include Karen Kaighin’s children playing atop the so Pittsburgh brownfields of “Slag Heap” 1 and 2. Other imagery is more somber, such as Paul Mark Pacak’s figures, who are both unwitting participant and witness, lone chairs discovered by Ruthanne Bauerle and Charlene Bidula that movingly connote absence, and Christopher Ruane’s mysterious “Lady of the Mantel.”
One of the works that will stay longest with me is Blaine Siegel’s gripping triptych “0016360.JPG/IRAQ, 0016360,JPG/LIBYA, 016360.JPG/BOSTON.” The reduced imagery, resembling vinyl sticker cutouts, begins as a figure and a few bloodied body parts in the first panel and ends with a white raised arm, head and hand that blend into the background in the third. Almost poetic in its simplicity, it’s a compelling evocation of the inexplicable.
There is more to this exhibition than I have space to address, including many finely executed works by long-established artists and other experimental pieces that are less refined but provoke discussion. Choice of frame, a skill in itself, detracts from some otherwise appealing work. The AAP continues to redefine itself, as does the art world, and the mix of longtime supporters, new members and diversity exhibited here is evidence that it’s heading in a good direction.
Members who have died since the last annual are not represented in the exhibition as had been past practice, but are listed in the small complimentary brochure, which this year contains color images of most artworks. Deceased are Gertrude Temeles Half, Jane Haskell, David Olson, Miriam (McDevitt) Stuhldreher, Cydra Vaux, Susan Winicour and Leonoor Zehner.
The AAP Annual continues through Aug. 31. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. Information: www.wmuseumaa.org or 724-837-1500.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1925.