On Sunday, an exhibition that is unusual even for an art city like Pittsburgh will open at a spot that's unusual for an art exhibition. "Factory Direct: Pittsburgh," a project of The Andy Warhol Museum, will showcase the work of 14 international artists, 11 at Guardian Self-Storage in the Strip District and three at the museum. A panel discussion with most artists will begin at 3 p.m Sunday at The Warhol.
The artists worked in residence at businesses, corporate or industrial sites in and around Pittsburgh -- our contemporary "factories" -- and Guardian complements the project theme. The resultant art is as varied as the individual artists who participated.
Ohio-based Ann Hamilton, for example, worked with employees of Bayer Corp. and the Post-Gazette while exploring a material developed by Bayer. Ms. Hamilton exhibited in the 1991 and 1999 Carnegie Internationals at Carnegie Museum of Art and was a co-designer of Allegheny Riverfront Park.
Mark Neville, a London native, tracked Pittsburgh's steel legacy as he photographed residents of the Sewickley area and Braddock. His work has taken him to locations as widespread as the post-industrial town of Port Glasgow, Scotland, and the war zone of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Mr. Neville began a talk at The Warhol last week by passing to the audience military issue underwear he wore during a three-month residency with British and American troops in Afghanistan last year. The material was dense and the cut Bermuda-shorts length. In the event of an explosion, "you might lose your legs but keep your testicles," he said, setting the tone for a short film he made there.
The film was shot from the top of a tank as it moved through an Afghan marketplace, recording the roughly constructed stalls, containers of food and other goods and, most engagingly, the robed people who turned to watch. By using slow motion film -- which takes 200 frames per second vs. the norm of 25 -- he achieved "a very even tracking shot" although the dirt road was bumpy. The pan through the provincial market, without sound, drama or news commentary, explained more succinctly the cultural rift between East and West than a decade of media coverage has.
Other work discussed included the 2005-06 "Port Glasgow Book Project," his first public art commission and one more closely related to his Pittsburgh work.
In the 1940s and '50s the Scottish town built more ships than anywhere else in the world, he said, and then began a post-industrial decline. He traveled there with the intent of "looking at the social function of photography and how it can benefit the subject matter rather than exploit the subject matter, as so often happens."
He decided to photograph the community and produce a book, but not the pricey coffee-table volume that would be purchased by "white middle-class people like me." Instead, copies of the book were delivered by the local boy's football (soccer) team to each resident, gratis. Books were not made commercially available.
These were generally well received, although there was one wrinkle. Catholic and Protestant social clubs were among the subjects photographed, and it seems a neighborhood block of Protestant residents, charging more Catholic representation, dumped their books behind a Catholic club and set them on fire. "The fire department called me and said 'Mr. Neville, your books are on fire.' "
The books are now a collectors' item and are going for $500 on eBay.
"I'm delighted," the artist said, noting that the people who didn't burn them now have something of monetary value that they may cash in or hold onto as a keepsake.
For "Factory Direct," Mr. Neville selected 50 images that will be projected during a 20-minute slide show, a distillation of three months spent on our streets. From Allegheny Country Club to a rave at a Braddock Elk's Lodge, he searched for Pittsburgh's steel heritage. "I'm really proud of the 50 images I made," Mr. Neville said, a documentarian with a twist, pleased with his discovery.
"Factory Direct: Pittsburgh" was organized by Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner, who invited artists to select a "factory" from a list of 75 that ranged in location from the Northwestern region of the state to West Virginia. To his surprise, there were no first choice overlaps. Artists worked on site for periods ranging from two weeks to two months.
Three Pittsburgh-based artists are included. Sculptor Dee Briggs worked with TAKTL, a design and manufacturing company; painter and sculptor Fabrizio Gerbino with Calgon Carbon Corp.; and installation and conceptual artist William Earl Kofmehl III with Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka.
The others, besides Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Neville, are Chakaia Booker (USA), who worked at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University; Thorsten Brinkmann (Germany), Construction Junction; Jeanette Doyle (Ireland), Ansaldo STS USA, formerly Union Switch & Signal; Ryan McGinness (USA), Forms+Surfaces, designer and manufacturer of architectural products; Sarah Oppenheimer (USA), PPG Industries; Edgar Orlaineta (Mexico), Alcoa Inc.; ORLAN (France), BodyMedia, which specializes in on-body monitoring systems; and Tomoko Sawada (Japan), Heinz. Todd Eberle (USA), whose work appears in Vanity Fair, will make formal photographs of each participating facility.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.