When Daniel Baumann first saw the outside of the Carnegie Museum of Art, it looked austere. Cold. Forboding.
Nothing a brightly colored 1970s-era piece of playground equipment can't fix.
Adhering to the playful tone of this year's Carnegie International, the museum is installing a "lozziwurm" playground on Forbes Avenue in front of the museum.
"When I first came here to do my job interview, I saw the outside and didn't find it inviting enough," said Mr. Baumann, one of the curators of this year's Carnegie International, which runs from Oct. 5 to March 16, 2014.
"Jokingly, I would say, 'Why don't we build a playground out there?' A bit to my surprise the response was, 'Oh, what a nice idea.' "
The playground will open Saturday, with an accompanying museum "Play Day" in celebration. Children under 12 will have free admission between 10 a.m and 3 p.m., and the museum will host special child-focused activities such as art projects in the lobby, a puppet show in the art galleries and Carnegie Library story times.
The lozziwurm, invented in 1972 by Swiss artist Yvan Pestalozzi, is a twisting plastic tube with staggered openings for children to climb through.
Not coincidentally, Mr. Baumann, a Swiss native, spent a good portion of his childhood holed up inside a lozziwurm. He described the feeling of losing your orientation inside the worm before finding a hole to climb out -- "a very nice moment of uncanniness but also security."
Mr. Baumann tracked down the original manufacturer of lozziwurms and found out it was still making them. He placed an order for a red, orange and yellow model, which comes in a kit that can be put together any number of ways.
"Nowadays, playgrounds are standardized for security reasons," said Mr. Baumann. "This one, you get as a kit, and it's up to you to put together. It's very much in the DIY spirit of the '70s -- it's like hippie plastic."
When the lozziwurm opens, it will be fenced in, and open for play during museum hours. There is no charge to use it. The Carnegie declined to say how much the lozziwurm had cost, but did say that a generous gift from Swiss art patrons Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann made the project possible.
Mr. Baumann and the other two curators of the Carnegie International, Dan Byers and Tina Kukielski, have chosen play as one of the key themes of the International, an exhibition of global contemporary art generally held every three years in Pittsburgh. In addition to the lozziwurm, the Carnegie International's Playground Project will also involve exhibits and summer camp activities.
Mr. Baumann's wife, Gabriela Burkhalter, is researching the history of playgrounds. Her blog, Architektur für Kinder (Architecture for Children), displays photos of playgrounds with unique design.
Though Mr. Baumann describes most playgrounds in Pittsburgh as fairly standardized, he likes the spirit of Blue Slide Park, on Beechwood Boulevard in Frick Park, with its blue slide carved into the hill. Children sit on pieces of cardboard to make the slide faster.
"That's what I love," he said. "When kids find out new ways of doing things."
A playground, said Mr. Baumann, can be viewed as a metaphor for a museum experience.
"This is a museum, but museums aren't deadly serious," he said. "It is about experience, fun, risk and getting challenged by things. The same way you go to a playground and relax, a museum is open-minded and relaxed."
The lozziwurm will stay in place outside the museum for at least a year, said Mr. Baumann, and possibly longer depending on how well it's received.
Anya Sostek: email@example.com or 412-263-1308. First Published April 21, 2013 4:00 AM