An exhibition titled "Humor in Craft" sounds like a lot of fun, but what exactly does that translate to?
For the 32 artists represented in this playful show at the Society for Contemporary Craft, humor ranges from the immediacy of a ceramic mug with a toothy grin (Jason Kishell, "Smug Mug") to a feminist critique that includes a blender and a music box ballerina (Harriete Estel Berman, "Womanizer, Kitchen Queen").
Brigitte Martin, the exhibition's guest curator and author of a recently released book of the same title, realizes that humor is an open category, and wanted to reflect that.
"Humor is so subjective," she said, influenced by such things as nationality, religion, socio-economic background and education. "I was very conscious of that. It was important to make an exhibition that would appeal to a range of people."
Jim Kransberger's "Yata, yata, yata" -- a puppet-like, hand-cranked suited figure behind a podium -- exemplifies how personal an interpretation may be. Preacher, politician, inspirational speaker?
"If Republican, you would view it as a Democrat. If you're Democrat-leaning, you would view it as a Republican," Ms. Martin said.
A German native, classically trained goldsmith and founder of networking site crafthaus, Ms. Martin was exacting in the skill standards she applied to selecting works, but didn't want to be humor arbiter. "Rather than me telling people what was funny, I let the artists say what they think is funny." That isn't as straightforward as one may imagine.
"Artists don't want to fess up [that their intent is humor] because they're concerned they won't be taken as serious," Ms. Martin said. "With few exceptions, all [the selected] artists are academically trained. They know how to think critically about their work, and put it into a greater art context. Humor is such a great aspect of being alive, and why not show it? There's nothing wrong with showing it."
The expression includes tongue-in-cheek, satirical and political humor, at times plays on incongruity. It is international and embraces a wide range of media and subject matter.
For "My Love Life Thus Far," Tim Tate glass-encased a tiny screen with a video of a building being demolished, run in reverse, and endlessly repeated. Annabelle Collett's "Thanks Alot Bag & Forget Me Not Shoe" speak, through embroidery, to their wearer ("When we first started going out together, I loved the way you showed me off ... I now just sit on the shelf feeling like an old bag ..."). Rachel Rader's sensual glass, Austrian crystal-studded sweetmeats, upon closer inspection, include "Anemone Tarts and Barnacle Crumpets."
More provocative is Gerrit Van Ness' "Nanny," an anthropomorphized television wearing high black boots that is connected by a chain to a tiny child in pajamas. "It's quite sinister," Ms. Martin said. "It's one of those images that everybody gets on an elemental level. It's something we do every day, the parents' pull and push, how to get it all done, and the potential consequences of having their children exposed to so much modern media."
Ms. Martin and Rob Rogers will explore the question "What Do We Laugh At?" in a public discussion at the Society for Contemporary Craft on Sept. 22. Mr. Rogers is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist who has been with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1993. Ms. Martin is hoping people will turn out to comment and ask questions. And she has a few lined up for her co-presenter, including what he finds funny personally, and whether there are boundaries to what he may address in his newspaper cartoons.
"I want to show this work. I chose the topic humor because I think humor will get people closer to the work. I'm kind of on a mission here, I guess."
"Humor" continues through Oct. 27, as does Daniel Krueger's "Food Play," at Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free. Ms. Martin and Mr. Rogers will speak at 4 p.m. Sept. 22, and she will sign books after. Admission to the event is $5 at the door; the hard cover, richly illustrated book, featuring 235 artists and several essays, is $50. "An Evening of Musical Interpretations" will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 26, including a Chatham Baroque performance and metalsmiths Lisa and Scott Cylinder talking about making jewelry from discarded musical instruments (free). Information: 412-261-7003 or www.contemporarycraft.org.
A talk about the connection between the late African American artist Richmond Barthe and the Edgar Kaufmann family will be given by Aleksandra Carapella at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Downtown (free and public). "Richmond Barthe: His Life in Art," a traveling exhibition of 30 sculptures, will close Saturday.
Mr. Barthe graduated in 1928 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and moved to New York during the period of the Harlem Renaissance. Well-respected in his lifetime, his reputation diminished after he moved to Jamaica, then Europe. He returned to the U.S. after almost three decades abroad and died in California.
When preparing the show for installation, Cecile Shellman, Wilson Center artistic director, visual arts and exhibitions, learned of a previously never-exhibited work by the artist, a bust of "Mr. W. Frank Purdy," that is in the Fallingwater collection. She contacted Ms. Carapella, and the work was loaned for display exclusively with the exhibition's Pittsburgh venue. Other works by Mr. Barthe at Fallingwater are a gracious, full-length stone figure of Rose McClendon, a 1920s Broadway actress and co-founder of the Negro People's Theatre in Harlem; a bust of a "Negro Child"; and a bust of Edgar Kaufmann Jr., which sits upon his father's desk.
Ms. Carapella, acting curator of buildings and collections at Fallingwater, will conduct the talk in the exhibition galleries. "It's quite the interesting story! Barthe spent some time at Fallingwater, and counts that place as one of his inspirations," Ms. Shellman wrote in an e-mail.
The August Wilson Center is at 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Admission is $8, students $4. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Information: 412-258-2700 or www.AugustWilsonCenter.org.
"No Job No Home No Peace No Rest: An Installation by Will Steacy," a chronicle and critique of the status of the American Dream, opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 E. Carson St., South Side (free and public). A gallery talk by the artist and Silver Eye director Ellen Fleurov will be followed by an artist reception from 7 to 9 p.m. The Silver Eye show's title comes from the Bruce Springsteen song "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
Central is "The Beast," a 170-foot-long collage comprising thousands of newspaper clippings, his photographs and found objects, shown for the first time in its entirety. (412-431-1810).
"A Conversation With Will Steacy" will begin at 7 p.m. tonight at 3803 Butler St., second floor, Lawrenceville, followed by a book signing and reception.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.