Carnegie International brings artists, audience together in Lawrenceville apartment

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It sounds like the tenants from hell -- visitors coming and going, parties with 40 or more people two or three times a month, dozens of new cars jamming parking-tight Lawrenceville. Yet landlords Garry Pyles and Atticus Adams are delighted with their new downstairs neighbors.

"It's been a wonderful experience. Our other neighbors have commented on how interesting they are. There has not been one problem," Mr. Pyles said.

Who knew that renting to the Carnegie International would be so much fun?

The exhibition of contemporary art begun by Andrew Carnegie has been held every two or three years in and around the Carnegie Museum of Art since 1896. But the show and its lectures and other programs have rarely strayed beyond Oakland.

Upcoming programs

May 13: Belfast Punk Night, screening of "Shellshock Rock," a 1979 film about Northern Irish punk, and vinyl dance party DJ'd by John Carson.

May 21: Talks by Pittsburgh artists Cara Erskine and Corey Escoto.

Reservations: All are by invitation only. Contact Jonathan Gaugler for an invite and information: 412-688-8690 or

Museum officials and the three co-curators decided it was time to "reach out and extend our arm across the city," said Tina Kukielski, who came here in 2011 from New York's Whitney Museum of American Art to help curate the International.

She was given the task of finding an apartment that could serve as programming/party space and as temporary housing for visiting artists and co-curator Daniel Baumann of Basel, Switzerland. She quickly narrowed her search to Lawrenceville, but not because that's where she and her husband are living.

"We wanted to have a place in a neighborhood that had character, a neighborhood where artists lived," she said.

One of her first leads was a funky building on 44th Street with industrial corrugated siding on the exterior. Its owners, Mr. Pyles and Mr. Adams, were also artists and in 2011 had been named runners-up in the large project category of the Post-Gazette's Renovation Inspiration Contest for combining an old machine shop and grocery into a lofty, two-story showplace for their artistic and urban aesthetic.

Unfortunately, the downstairs apartment was occupied when Ms. Kukielski contacted them. Then, a month later, Mr. Pyles called to say that the tenants had bought a house in the neighborhood and the apartment had become available. Soon, Ms. Kukielski, Mr. Baumann and the third curator, Dan Byers of the Carnegie, were meeting there regularly. Mr. Baumann and his family lived there for two months before moving to the East End.

Furnishings came from IKEA, Craigslist and a vintage shop in Homestead. Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky even donated an extra bed. Artwork includes sculptures loaned by Mr. Pyles and Mr. Adams and a painting and large wall tapestry from local dealer Graham Shearing. One wall is hung with tote bags collected from biennials, shows and other places the curators have visited while choosing artists for the International, which opens in October and continues through March 2014.

But before anyone moved in or any programs were held, Carnegie officials dropped letters in each of their new neighbors' mailboxes explaining their plans and offering to discuss any concerns.

"That went a long way toward helping them become part of the community," Mr. Pyles said.

Promises to park on nearby Hatfield Street, which has few residents, alleviated any parking concerns, he added.

The first few events were small cocktail parties or gatherings, with 20 or 30 people clustered around the 8-foot-long steel-topped island in the large kitchen, chatting in the living room or spilling out onto the brick patio and deck with raised garden beds. Bigger crowds, as many as 60 people, attended programs by artist Carolee Schneemann and photography curator Marvin Heiferman, both from New York. All events are by invitation only and usually break up by 9 p.m., said Mr. Pyles, who often attends along with Mr. Adams.

"We can walk out our front door and be with all these interesting people," he said.

Mr. Pyles believes the apartment's programs have been an eye-opener both for local attendees unfamiliar with Lawrenceville and for visiting artists. "They get a sense of what Pittsburgh is about," he said.

Ms. Kukielski agreed, saying the apartment has put a friendlier face on the museum, drawing curators and other arts groups to collaborate. Some have become part of the apartment's ever-changing programming.

"It's fantastic, not something we expected," she said.

And those attending have given the programs rave reviews.

"They can't believe we didn't think of this sooner," she said, laughing.

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Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978. First Published April 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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