Wear your walking shoes to get the most out of the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which continues through Sunday and stretches from Point State Park a half dozen blocks to the Harris Theater.
The festival, which is sponsored by Dollar Bank, is also stretching its visual arts component as it continues to refine the juried show and has reintroduced public art.
An overview of the festival begins in Point State Park, where this weekend visitors may participate in an interactive performance by "The Drift" on a floating platform in the Allegheny River. On Friday, the sculpture "Azimuth," which looks like a cross between a James Turrell Skyspace and an abandoned space capsule, will be installed on the water. By pre-registering, visitors may boat to the platform for a 20-minute experience from noon to 2:30 p.m. and 3:20 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. RSVP at the launch point on performance days.
The next public artwork one encounters exiting the park is "Floating Echo" by Korean native Chang-Jin Lee. The transparent Buddha floating beneath the Portal Bridge introduces a vision of tranquility and an invitation to pause and watch the effect of natural and artificial light changes before re-entering the festival crowd's busy physical and mental flow.
Between the two is Pittsburgh artist Vanessa German's Art House in the Giant Eagle Creativity Zone, a fairy tale edifice where children of all ages may embellish posters printed with the word "imagine."
From noon to 9 p.m. Friday, Conflict Kitchen will embed within the Food Court in the park across from the Wyndham Grand Hotel. The CMU art department project features the cuisines of countries with which the U.S. is in conflict.
Nearby, on the hotel's white painted lawn (diluted somewhat by rain) is Hugh Hayden's "American Hero #4," a Ford Mustang with braided cornrows in place of racing stripes. The work initiates a conversation about race, but also about gender, masculinity and how those are manipulated to what end in a consumer society.
Part of the power of such works comes from the fact that they're unexpected encounters; another is their ability, once viewers are engaged, to transport them into analytical mode. But for fun. No grades here.
Heading to the Juried Arts Exhibition at 805-807 Liberty Ave., visitors encounter two permanent public artworks on Tito Way: InformationLab's "Cell Phone Disco," which viewers may alter using their phones; and Mary Mazziotti's "Memento Mori," which includes four eyebrow-raising panels that brush away the niceties usually expressed when speaking of the dead. ("His niece drove up in his beemer and dented the rear end. You know he's gotta be turning in his grave.")
Tito Way is also the location of another festival public artwork that will be active from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The form and energy of "Instabiles" by Andrew Hieronymi and Ian Brill will be influenced by viewers who interact with the projected piece generating shadows that spin up a wall.
The Juried Arts Exhibition is at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Arts Education Center on Liberty Avenue. After a rough beginning a few years ago, the exhibition is attracting many of the area's most capable artists and receiving the respectful display it deserves through the continuing efforts of installer MoxieDaDA. It's an important component of the festival, because it focuses specifically on local artists, and because it offers visitors yet another experience of art, not as immediate as that of the Artist Market nor so esoteric as the public art.
Fifty artworks in a variety of media by 38 regional artists were selected by jurors Cecile Shellman, curator, August Wilson Center; Adam Welch, curator, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts; and Lauren Wetmore, curatorial assistant, 2013 Carnegie International.
Highlights include works that combine mastery of technique and refined aesthetic decision-making, including Clayton Merrell's oil "Shadows and Lights," Joanne Bartone's photograph "Dreamscape," Seth Clark's mixed media "Collapse XII" and Shawn Quinlan's "PA Fracking Quilt."
There is a lot to like in this exhibition, from "Broken Glass" by one of our conceptual champions, W. Kramm, to the paintings of accomplished abstractionists Stephanie Armbruster, Thomas Bigatel and Scott Turri.
A floor below is another rewarding exhibition, the first of work by Flight School fellows specializing in the visual arts. The Flight School Fellowship was established three years ago to provide professional development assistance to local artists in a variety of disciplines through classes, mentoring and networking. Casey Droege selected works by artists from the 2011 and 2012 Flight School classes. Media range from photography to pressed vinyl.
Finally, just past the center, at 809 Liberty Ave., is the Harris Theater, where Pittsburgh Filmmakers is screening art-related films (free). Of particular interest are "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," about the Chinese activist artist (7:30 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m. Saturday); "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," Werner Herzog's historic and philosophic exploration of the Chauvet Cave in France (8:15 p.m. Friday, 7:15 p.m. Saturday); and "Maxo Vanka's Masterpiece: The Murals at St. Nicholas Church," about an unusual local treasure (6 p.m. Saturday).
All of this adds up to a festival that, as it redefines itself, is giving consideration to our large, talented and very diverse regional visual arts community, and that is a welcome sign.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925. First Published June 12, 2013 4:00 AM