A sign of the sophistication of the Pittsburgh art scene is its global engagement exemplified by a second cosmopolitan exhibition in this year of the Carnegie International, which opens in October.
"Fiberart International 2013" debuted last weekend at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Society for Contemporary Craft. This widely applauded triennial of contemporary fiber expression is organized by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
The 21st edition continues the exhibition's high standards, pushing boundaries of medium, technique and artistic practice. These range from large jacquard loom showpieces by professors Janice Lessman-Moss, Kent State University in Ohio, and Argentine Gabriela Nirino, National University of Buenos Aires; to the rice-studded collars of Art Institute of Chicago MFA student Aram Hans and Seattle studio artist Carol Milne's glass socks.
The exhibition drew 1,259 proposals by 525 artists from 36 countries -- the most diverse array in the show's history and representing six continents.
Of these, the jurors selected 79 works by 63 artists, 52 of whom are exhibiting for the first time in a Fiberart International. The largest number of exhibitors reside in the U.S. Other countries represented are Argentina, Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Guernsey Channel Islands, a British Crown Dependency.
'Fiberart International 2013'
Through Aug. 18 at two locations.
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday and until 7 p.m. Thursday.
$5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students, free for children 12 and under and to PF/PCA and Pittsburgh Glass Center members.
Bundle Dyeing Workshop with Pittsburgh artists Amber Coppings and Rose Clancy, May 5; fee, register ahead.
- Information: www.pittsburgharts.org
Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman St., Strip District.
10 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Fiber sculptor Jodi Colella talk, 7 p.m. May 17, and workshop May 18-19; "FI13" exhibitor Kate Kretz workshops, June 21-23; "FI13" exhibitor Elin Noble workshops, July 12-14; fee, register ahead.
- Information: www.contemporarycraft.org
Contains color illustrations of all artworks, directors' and jurors' statements, brief artists' comments and biographies ($25, paper, at both locations).
- Exhibition website: www.fiberartinternational.org
Men remain a tiny minority, surprising because of the extremely generous breadth of interpretation of what constitutes fiber art. That bolsters the exploration of the domestic/feminist side of fiber as in Sandra Jane Heard's inventive "Vestiges of Emancipation," an ode to suffragettes in the form of female torsos comprising woven vintage steel tape measures.
South Korean native Ms. Hans' thought-provoking "Ornament and Order," a white shirt collar with "Made in China" label and political-cultural undertones, covered with stitched-on rice grains, was inspired by her immigrant mother's Sisyphean seamstress labor as she sacrificed to give her children a better life in California.
The artists were born between 1936 and 1986 with a relatively even distribution from the decades 1940 through 1980. One would not be able to predict age by formal or technical qualities of the works, which range from traditional to experimental, many a hybrid.
Ms. Milne knitted her charming socks of wax and then kiln formed them using a lost wax casting technique. Julie Abijanac's somber 96-inch-wide "Disease Mapping," replicating a cancer growth, comprises sewn paper. Sandy Shelenberger substitutes imagery of stitching for the real thing in her graphic "Textures." Photographic transfers and digital design are prevalent.
More traditionally, Marcy Sperry painstakingly applied countless seed beads to her handsome 45-inch-square abstract "Micromanaged." Many artists speak in the catalog about the contemplative, even spiritual, quality of the repetitive rhythm of craft as a balance to frenzied contemporary culture. Ann Nyberg's fanciful weavings -- among the happiest objects in the show -- begin as drawings, blossoming with color and tactility as she transfers them to fiber.
The jurors were Paulina Ortiz, a textile artist and professor at the Veritas University in Costa Rica; Toronto fiber artist Kai Chan, whose 35-year retrospective is touring Canada; and Baltimore native and artist activist Joyce J. Scott, whose work confronts issues such as racism and sexism.
An exhibition reflects its times and its jurors. The works are quieter than in some years, and when figural or narrative seems a little sad, at times nostalgic. Many speak to family, such as Jim Arendt's winsome "Yvette & Ansley," inspired by the efforts of his now scattered family to hold their generational farm together, or Margaret Scott's poignant "Wedding Day v3," wherein the artist as child is pictured with her mother and stepfather in a reflection on black identity in Britain. Roslyn Ritter pays homage to her parents with "Love Letters," her mother's elegant 1930s wedding gown embroidered by the artist with words from her father's letters.
Many of these works succeed on their own and invite the visitor to construct a narrative or response. However, the viewer is deprived of stories like the above without a catalog, a reason to include extended labels in future exhibitions.
While attention is called to problems -- as in Julie Sirek's arresting "Dissolving Dream," a disintegrating white housedress that is a penetrating metaphor for violence against women -- other works take on problem solving, many cautioning to not make quick judgments.
"There's always another point of view that shows you a different truth," says Isobel Blank through her felted crouching rodent "B-side," which subtly contains a peaceful face atop its rounded head. Jane Kenyon's embroidered "Viewpoint" began as an aerial digital photograph that now resembles something other. "In our tendency to develop opinions based on a snapshot out of context, nature has reminded us to hold our judgment and take another look." Kimber Olson forms a wall-sized heart of 40 stitched segments that "yielded a recognizable shape once they were bound together ... we might embrace ideas that unite instead of divide us."
Religious references, atypical in contemporary galleries, appear in works like "Amazing Grace," Cynthia Lockhart's vibrant large wall piece, and April Dauscha's enigmatic video, "Act of Contrition." Kate Kretz speaks of "the fragility common to every human being" and the almost unbearable weight of the inferred suffering of others. Her aesthetic response is an embroidered lamb, its legs tied and head bowed, floating on a field of black velvet under what appears to be a white thorned crown. "I work until my hands shake because the world does not care. I am banging my head against the wall, but the stain is beautiful."
There is more to this engaging exhibition than can be addressed here, including the sumptuous, joyful Best in Show awardee "A Laughing House" by Japanese artist Naoe Okamoto, who flew in for the opening, and Hungarian Eszter Bornemisza's finely executed environmental panels "Lung of the City."
The exhibition is pulled together by a hard-working corps of guild volunteers who also plan a consistently well-attended daylong symposium, produce an illustrated catalog of works and arrange a travel schedule. This show will go next to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in California and the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
There is no favor given to guild members in the blind jurying process -- Mary Mazziotti is the only guild member to be selected this year -- but the guild continues its commitment to this unique opportunity for international fiber display. They do it professionally and they do it well.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.