2009 turned international spotlight on Pittsburgh's art scene

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Annual top 10 lists recognize exhibition highlights, but they're not the whole story of any given year in the arts, which also includes events, trends and people.

While G-20 summit security turned Pittsburgh into a near ghost town, The Andy Warhol Museum landed a coup as the site for first lady Michelle Obama's luncheon, further enhancing its international reputation. And during even dark economic hours, the Festival of Lights returned briefly to brighten the stay of summit media and dignitaries.

Pittsburgher Jen Saffron and Eva Heyd of the Prague House of Photography co-curated the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's SPACE Gallery exhibition "Czech It" and also "Connecting Pittsburgh," which opened recently at Galerie Deset in Prague (see Saffron's blog at post-gazette.com).

The "Sculpting Light on Stanwix" project -- a competition for the lobby of 11 Stanwix St., Downtown, co-sponsored by RexxHall Realty, LLC, EDGE Studio and the Pittsburgh Glass Center -- was awarded to Dan Spitzer and Jill Reynolds. The artists reside in Beacon, N.Y., but Reynolds is a former PGC artist-in-residence.

The fluid and lovely permanent installation, "Rivers of Glass: Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," was inspired by the city's three rivers. Its formal unveiling at the former Westinghouse Building headquarters will be next week, but the piece is already complete and visible.

Ex-Pittsburgher Sheila Klein, who is creating the public art component for a new pedestrian bridge linking Shadyside and East Liberty, offers a preview of her symbolic and over-the-top aesthetic in "The Return," an exhibition continuing through Sunday at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

A $108,930 donation last year to the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union was a final benefit of the 2008 dismissal of the 2004 indictment of Steven Kurtz and Robert Ferrell. The money was the remainder of their legal defense fund. The indictment arose from the discovery of biological materials in Kurtz's home that Ferrell allegedly provided for an art project. Kurtz is a University of Buffalo art professor and former CMU professor. Ferrell is the former chairman of the genetics department of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Among the year's losses, brought to my attention by previous PG art critic Donald Miller, was that of Philo A. Pitcher, who operated KingPitcher Gallery of Contemporary Art on Craig Street during the 1970s. She died Dec. 3.

Institutional news included a commendable continuing exploration of the Charles "Teenie" Harris archives by Carnegie Museum of Art, given a personal spin this year by eldest son Charles A. "Little Teenie" Harris; and the successful launch of social hot spot Culture Club, led by Dan Byers, assistant curator of contemporary art. (The next one is set for 5:30-9 p.m. Jan. 21; $10 includes museum admission, two drink tickets and lively conversation.)

The Mattress Factory reinstalled permanently the late Greer Lankton's "It's All About ME, Not You," a generous donation by the family that generated lines on opening day. The museum also continues the expectation-tweaking "Gestures" series, most recently smartly curated by Katherine Talcott, formerly of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. The Mattress Factory has one of the best museum Web sites I've discovered.

The merging of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Filmmakers is evolving, playing on the strengths of both organizations. Filmmakers screened the moving and exceptional "Seraphine," about French self-taught artist Seraphine de Serlis, and both venues exhibit installation and new media art.

And the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University maintains its role as the meeting place of societal issues, art and intellect via exhibitions that combine the topical and stimulating, such as "29 Chains to the Moon: Artists' Schemes for a Fantastic Future" and "Experimental Geography," exploring academic vs. experiential mindsets.

Other noteworthy exhibitions not included in the Post-Gazette 2009 roundup of Dec. 17 were: at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Patricia Bellan-Gillen's "ZOO.Logic+" and "Tina Williams Brewer: Guided by the Ancestors," accompanied by a book of the same title and the PCA Lifetime Achievement Award; Tom Sarver's "Sarver's Bait & Tackle" installation at Three Rivers Arts Festival; "The World at Our Door," Melissa Farlow and Randy Olson at Silver Eye Center for Photography; and at Westmoreland Museum of American Art, James Osher's "Three Seconds With the Masters," which challenged the short time most viewers spend with a work of art, and Daniel Bolick's "Resurrected," which brought to light the plight of exonerated prisoners who once sat on death row.

Lastly, but certainly not the last we'll hear of them, the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 99th Annual Exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art was among the best to date. That's good news as the (at last count 70) exhibitions commemorating the organization's centennial year begin to open, reaching an apex July 23 when the 100th Annual opens at the Carnegie.

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925. First Published January 6, 2010 5:00 AM


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