The 2006 version of the Three Rivers Arts Festival curated exhibition is fresh, lively and engaging, reflecting an abundance of local talent and providing empirical proof of the existence of a vital and talented regional art community producing contemporary, progressive work.
Be advised that, unlike last year's edition, the exhibition runs only till the end of the festival, June 18. It's at 937 Liberty Ave., which also houses the festival offices.
The success of the exhibition is attributable to the 33 artists whose works are displayed. It's also due to the perseverance and professionalism of festival curator Katherine Talcott, who, in her four-year tenure, has made an effort to learn about the regional artists and to draw upon those who've not shown as much along with those familiar to local audiences.
In it's fourth year, the show has undergone a name change from the "Annual Exhibition" to "Pittsburgh's Best 2006." The Annual replaced the festival's long-running juried visual arts exhibitions, which were nationally competitive shows, to focus merited attention on regional artists.
In keeping with contemporary practices, the art encompasses a variety of media and expression, including painting, fiber, installation, photography, sound, sculpture and video. There is admirable technical proficiency supporting this diversity and when materials are explored it's to enhance the intended expression.
Perhaps best of all are the multiplicity of concepts and issues that inspire the works, which include environmentalism, the body, war, globalization, beauty and ritual. Artworks were all created during the past year and debut here.
Visual components that have an innocent, child-like quality combined with somber subject matter magnify the impact of several works. Tom Weinrich's black housing for his compelling video installation "Living With the Thought of Dying" looks like a boy's drawing of a tank made three-dimensional, but the on-screen family hunkering in a shelter bring the face of war close to one's own. A group of drawings on brown paper pinned to the wall, "configuration: go figure, etc.," by Jairan Sadeghi, speak to globalization and immigration issues. They include sweet-looking, chador-garbed girls walking amid a shower of red, white and blue stars, one of which impales a child's head and catches on fire. The artist was born in Ireland, grew up in Iran and immigrated to the United States with her family when she ws a teen.
Brett Yasko's substantial installation "WHY?" comprises 6,500 plastic toy soldiers stuck to the upper-story gallery windows. In his artist's statement he writes, "The intent is to have people ask: 'Hey, why are all of those soldiers out there?' Why, indeed."
Terry Young infuses Jenny Holzer's 1970s "Truisms" -- such as "Believing in rebirth is the same as admitting defeat" -- with new meaning by situating them in a "field outside Shanksville." Matteo Nunzio Orsini's demure paintings "Climbing Skyline" and "Publicity Flood" become bombastic when associations are made through their spare imagery with Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina. In the layered and complex fiberwork "Time After Time," Tina Williams Brewer tenderly links Katrina and the Middle Passage through symbols and images stitched beneath folds of time and cloth.
"UNBREAKABLE," a commendable grouping of monoprints by Leslie Golumb, are moving for what they are and what they are not. "A Lyrical Greening of a Brownfield" aptly describes Noel Hefele's handsome paintings spaced by pots holding what some would consider weeds.
Lauren Urbschat combines nostalgia, domesticity and fun in the scent-infused "Marshmallow Meditation: Take One," a large colorful critter sculpture made of Rice Krispies Treats that on opening night became interactive as visitors peeled off -- and ate -- its outer layer while Urbschat stood by in '50s-style dress, shoes and apron.
The body as subject continues to fascinate, as in Rebecca Bortman's simultaneously repellent and intriguing photographs, "New Skin"; Anna Divinsky's metaphoric Shibori panels, "Sheets of Skin"; and Paul Bowden's "25 Figures," a poignant group of identical small figures the color of peeled skin that en masse are Everyman. In Bob LaBobgah's sensual, baroque installation "JUNGFER, GEBAREN, & ALTES WEIB Plus MARIONETTE," the body is eroticized, ritualized, returned to bone and reflected back upon the viewer.
Jesse Jamaica McLean's video projection over a wall sculpture faceted like a "Precious Stone" is a technical feat as well as a winsome work, and George Roland's computer animation "Diskon 2" is a mesmerizing and extremely beautiful wall of jewel-toned rotating ellipses.
Space doesn't permit the full discussion the preceding works deserve, nor inclusion of many other fine pieces. But there are still 14 days left in which to form your own opinions.
"Best" continues through June 18 at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. daily. A reception with band Centipede E'est will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. June 16. Admission is free. Access by stairs or elevator. For information, call 412-281-8723 or visit www.artsfestival.net.Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette photos
Carolina Loyola-Garcia tweaks her audio/video installation "FRAGILE," which grew out of environmental concerns.
Click photo for larger image.John Ritter's enamel and silkscreen on metal "Bone Game" was inspired by a short story, "The Bone Game" by Charles D'Ambrosio, that he'd earlier illustrated for The New Yorker.
Click photo for larger image.Artist John Ritter installs "Ascension" in a recently uncovered window at the top of the gallery staircase -- an artwork the viewer sees from the actual landing the figure stands upon.
Click photo for larger image.
In Brett Yasko's installation "WHY?" 6,500 toy soldiers march across the gallery windows.
Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1925.